New York Islanders

With more questions than answers, what's Flyers' playoff outlook?

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With more questions than answers, what's Flyers' playoff outlook?

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers' 5-4 regulation loss Tuesday to the Islanders certainly raised more questions than answers. To their credit, it was the first time Dave Hakstol's team failed to earn a point since a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets on March 15.

Since then, the Flyers have reeled off a 5-1-3 record, but a record that’s rather deceiving. On March 15, the Flyers maintained the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, one point better than the Devils with a four-point cushion on the Panthers.

Now, they’re the second wild-card team behind New Jersey and Florida is still four points out with one game in hand.    

The outlook
Still very good. SportsClubStats.com gives the Flyers a 93 percent chance of reaching the postseason. However, that number's down 5.8 percent following their loss to the Islanders.

The Panthers' tragic number is three, the same number the Flyers need to clinch their playoff berth. Any combination of Flyers wins or Panthers losses would contribute to that outcome.

Better schedule?
The Flyers have a much easier path with home games remaining against the Hurricanes on Thursday and the Rangers Saturday, two teams eliminated from playoff contention. However, the Rangers are planning on starting Henrik Lundqvist against the Flyers.

The Panthers play two of their remaining games against the Bruins (Thursday and Sunday), who are still battling the Lightning for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and one game with the Sabres.

If the Flyers' lead is trimmed to one, or even two, points following Saturday’s games, then the Panthers' regular-season finale Sunday will determine the East's final playoff spot.  

Playoff reservations
I’d have three different reservations in your itinerary with a trip to Washington, Tampa Bay and Boston. According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers have the greatest chance of meeting the Capitals in the first round at 36.7 percent, followed by the Bruins at 26.7 percent and the Lightning at 10.9 percent.

With Tuesday’s loss, you can be almost certain (if they clinch) the Flyers start the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road with Game 1 starting Wednesday, April 11, or Thursday, April 12.

Who starts Thursday?
Brian Elliott said after Wednesday’s optional skate he hadn’t ruled out playing Thursday but would certainly prefer to come into a low-pressure situation given no game action since early February. 

Hakstol mentioned he had made a decision in his mind but wouldn’t disclose who he would play against Carolina. Elliott and Alex Lyon were the two goalies on the ice for Wednesday. Michal Neuvirth remains day to day and isn’t an option right now.

It appears to be Petr Mrazek, who has won just three of his previous 14 appearances with a 3.70 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage.

Flyers' huge rally evaporates in seconds during tough loss

Flyers' huge rally evaporates in seconds during tough loss

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — The Flyers will have to clinch a playoff spot on home ice with their final two games of the regular season at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Islanders outlasted the Flyers, 5-4, at the Barclays Center on Tuesday after the Flyers rallied to tie the game in the third period after trailing, 4-1, through 40 minutes.

New York captain John Tavares led the way with a pair of goals.

Claude Giroux topped the 30-goal mark for the first time in his 11th NHL season. Twenty-eight seconds after he scored, the Flyers surrendered the game-winner.

Five goals were scored by players under the age of 21 (Mathew Barzal had two, Nolan Patrick had two and Anthony Beauvillier had one).

The Flyers will host the Hurricanes Thursday.

• Ron Hextall mentioned Monday how well Shayne Gostisbehere’s defense has improved this season, which has even exceeded the GM’s expectations. “Ghost” was outstanding as he stripped Beauvillier and stick-handled around Barzal to lead a Flyers’ 3-on-2 for Wayne Simmonds’ 24th goal of the season. While Oskar Lindblom exhibited a good deal of patience and Patrick once again flashed tremendous stick work, Gostisbehere made the entire play happen to tie the game at 1-1.

However, Gostisbehere was also guilty of a couple of breakdowns, the most obvious one on Tavares’ second goal.  

• It’s hard to generate a shot when you don’t have the puck on your stick, which was the case for the first 10 minutes of the second period. The Flyers started the first 8:20 without a single shot on net, and were heavily outshot, 17-6, over the 20 minutes. The Flyers looked completely stagnant, while allowing the Islanders to dictate play to go along with second-effort opportunities. It may have been their worst 20 minutes since the 10-game winless streak. Dave Hakstol flipped his lines around unsuccessfully in an effort to generate something offensively.

• The Flyers were getting absolutely killed with skill. Tavares was given all the time in the world on the Islanders' first goal, a power-play tally. Defenseman Radko Gudas was way too over-aggressive in playing the puck along the boards. Calder Trophy favorite Barzal provided a dazzling top-shelf goal and 20-year-old Beauvillier stick handled around the entire Flyers defense to generate a shot that Petr Mrazek appeared to be screened on.

• Somehow the Flyers need to incorporate Patrick on that top power-play unit. He’s just too good and productive and proved so again Tuesday. Patrick provided a tremendous second effort in front of goalie Thomas Greiss to bring the Flyers within 4-2. Credit Jakub Voracek with a perfect pass that Patrick just had to redirect for the goal. Still, Patrick has been an absolute force when utilized on the No. 1 power play.

• In somewhat of a head-scratching decision, Hakstol elected to sit Scott Laughton, a player who actually delivered a solid game against the Bruins, creating chances and generating some speed playing on the left wing. With Michael Raffl ready to return, Laughton was the odd-man out as Hakstol elected to stick with the plodding Jori Lehtera at center, who had no shot of chasing down Barzal on the 5-4 goal. Against the uptempo Islanders, the Flyers needed all the speed they could get on the ice.

The Flyers' puzzling playoff drama

The Flyers' puzzling playoff drama

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Somewhere there’s an orange and black feel-good pill out there with the Flyers' name on it.

Some of the most vulnerable teams in the league whose playoff aspirations were down the drain in early March have notched some late-season moral victories over the Flyers. 

Tuesday night was another tough one to swallow. Facing the Islanders, the worst defensive team in the league, the Flyers fell flat on their face once again with a 5-4 regulation loss (see observations).

“They won more battles, which is inexcusable at this time of the year,” Sean Couturier said. “The first 40 (minutes) wasn’t good at all. We came back in the third. It’s just not enough at this time of the year.”

The Islanders hadn’t out-battled anyone recently, having won just three of their previous 19 games before facing the Flyers. In the second period, they scored three unanswered goals while outshooting the Flyers, 17-6.

“In the second period, our play with the puck got us. It cost us,” Dave Hakstol said. “This game is not what we need obviously.”

And the Isles aren’t the only fragile opponent the Flyers have allowed an uplifting two points. 

Two weeks ago, they walked into Little Caesars Arena and played down to the competition in a 5-4 shootout loss to a Red Wings team that was winless over its previous 10 straight.

One week ago, the Flyers were stargazing against a Dallas team that had dropped eight in a row.

“I don’t think our mindset is it’s going to be easy,” Couturier said. “It’s tough this time of the year. You’re playing teams with nothing to lose and they just go out and play and there’s not really a whole lot of emotion. You've got to kind of get yourself going and be ready for those. Those are the toughest ones and those are the ones that make the difference.”

Not playing with a lot of emotion for a team 700-plus days removed from its last playoff game is a real concern.

Right now, those three abysmal losses (two after regulation and one in regulation) mark a four-point swing in the standings, or the difference between hosting a first-round playoff series and possibly barely squeaking in.

If Hakstol was running the bench of the Harlem Globetrotters, there would be real concerns about beating the Washington Generals right now. 

Now the Panthers are closing in on their back bumper. After taking down the Predators, 2-1, Florida trails the Flyers by four points for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

All the Flyers need are three points (or just some help) on home ice in their final two games against the Hurricanes and Rangers.

Two teams with nothing left to play for except making the Flyers' life miserable.