Florida Panthers

Here's how we could get a Flyers-Panthers play-in game

Here's how we could get a Flyers-Panthers play-in game

Oh boy.

The NHL announced a new tiebreaker Friday. Should the Flyers and Panthers finish the regular season tied in points, wins, points in their season series and season goal differential, the teams will play one final game to advance to the playoffs: A play-in game for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Of course, the Flyers can avert all this madness and simply get one point vs. the Rangers Saturday, punching their ticket to the postseason.

For the Panthers to catch the Flyers, they must win both of their remaining games, while the Flyers must lose to the Rangers in regulation Saturday.

The only realistic way the play-in game would happen is if the Flyers and Panthers finish with the same goal differential. With two games left, the Panthers are a minus-1 and the Flyers are plus-3 with one game remaining.

So, thanks to the mathematicians at Broad Street Hockey, the Flyers would need to lose by two goals to the Rangers, while the Panthers win their final two games in shootouts. Very unlikely.

And should that game happen, there would (thankfully) be no shootout. The teams would play under the playoff overtime format — 5-on-5 periods until one team scores. The location of the game would be determined by an equal draw Sunday night. The Flyers are 2-2 against the Panthers this season, with both losses coming on the road.

Still, it's exciting to think about a Game 83, but we all remember the last time the Flyers played the Rangers in the final game with a playoff spot on the line. 

Appropriately, it all comes down to this for the Flyers

Appropriately, it all comes down to this for the Flyers

BOX SCORE

While the playoff push boiled, the Flyers said it like it was their mission statement.

We control our destiny.

Here we are, Game 82 next on the docket, and the Flyers remarkably still do.

Ironically yet fittingly, though, their fate remains up in the air just as much as they control it heading into the final hurrah of the 2017-18 regular season.

Would the Flyers have it any other way?

"We knew it was going to come down to that," Jakub Voracek said.

It didn't have to, but the Flyers needed assistance Thursday and couldn't get the helping hand. They picked up a heart-racing, stomach-turning 4-3 win over the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center in the season's penultimate game (see observations). That was step No. 1 to punching their playoff ticket Thursday. They also required a Panthers' loss to go with it and Florida didn't cooperate, beating the Bruins, 3-2.

As players one by one trickled into the dressing room, they didn't seem too concerned about scoreboard watching with the Panthers and Bruins still duking it out, tied at 2-2 in the third period. In fact, the Flyers were quite emotionless.

"I don't think anyone was really paying attention," Travis Konecny said. "I think we've got our own business to worry about."

This season, they haven't been fortunate enough to relax much anyway.

"We're not trying to get up, get down," Konecny said at the time. "We know that there's still another game being played right now."

For them now, too — one more coming up, gushing with importance.

The Flyers (41-26-14, 96 points), grasping to the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, lead the Panthers (42-30-8, 92 points) by four points for that final berth. They're also just one point behind both the Devils and Blue Jackets, so plenty can change (see standings).

But as the playoff picture remains a bit cloudy, what's crystal clear is the Flyers' simplest way into the bracket.

Just win.

That will be the team's obvious goal Saturday afternoon when it hosts the Rangers, the Metropolitan Division's last-place club, which has gone 9-18-4 since Feb. 1.

"I mean, before the season starts, if you tell us we've got one game to win to make the playoffs, I think anybody would take it," Sean Couturier said. "So it's kind of a huge challenge, big game coming up, exciting and we'll be ready."

If the Flyers happen to lose in regulation, then the whole control-our-destiny message goes out the window and into the Panthers' lap. Florida has two games left — Saturday night vs. the Sabres and Sunday night at the Bruins. Those two will mean everything or nothing depending on the Flyers' final result beforehand.

"The game is in our hands on Saturday," Voracek said.

Right where they want to be.

"We control our own destiny," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We don't have to worry about anyone else."

The Flyers almost had to worry until they pulled out a roller-coaster victory in the final six minutes of regulation Thursday against a non-playoff team.

"Tonight was right down to the wire," Dave Hakstol said.

So is the regular season — and why not?

Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

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Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and the Columbus Blue Jackets shut out the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Thursday night for their 10th straight win.

Pierre-Luc Dubois had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 42-28-5 and joined Philadelphia (1984-86) and Pittsburgh (2010-13) as the only NHL franchises to record 10-game win streaks in consecutive seasons.

The shutout was the 24th of Bobrovsky's career and his seventh straight win. Sonny Milano, Seth Jones and Thomas Vanek -- into an empty net -- also scored for Columbus, which moved into a second-place tie in the Metropolitan Division with idle Pittsburgh, each with 89 points.

Florida dropped to 37-28-7. With 10 games left in the season, the Panthers remained a point behind the idle New Jersey Devils for a playoff spot (see full recap).

Maple Leafs top Predators in Matthews’ return
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Auston Matthews had a goal in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday night.

The Predators had been 14-0-1 since their previous regulation loss on Feb. 17.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander and Jake Gardiner also scored for Toronto, which has won five of six.

Morgan Rielly had three assists for the Maple Leafs, and Tyler Bozak had two. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 shots.

Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell scored for Nashville. Pekka Rinne had 23 saves (see full recap).

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings
DETROIT -- Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored the game's only goal on a third-period breakaway to lift the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

The Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down. Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn't available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining in the game after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn't control the puck near Washington's blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway, and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side. It was his 15th goal of the season.

The Red Wings had a goal called back for goalie interference in the first period -- replays showed Tyler Bertuzzi appearing to make contact with Grubauer in front of the net. Detroit squandered a great opportunity in the second when the Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the full 2:00.

Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway in the third, but couldn't beat Grubauer. Athanasiou had another chance in the final minutes, but his shot deflected wide as Grubauer tried unsuccessfully to grab it with his glove.

Detroit has lost 11 of 12 (see full recap).