Flyers proving themselves against NHL's best

Flyers proving themselves against NHL's best

March 31, 2014, 10:00 am
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In thier last nine games, against some of the best teams in the league, the Flyers have come away with 13 of a possible 18 points. (USA Today Images)

The Flyers just completed their most difficult one-week stretch of games this entire season.

In their last four games -- part of the club’s deadly dozen -- they came away with only three points. That may not sound great, but in the larger context of the 12-game grind which figured to make or break their playoff chances, the Flyers have so far gone 6-2-1, claiming 13 of 18 possible points.

Craig Berube’s club still has three games remaining to close out the dozen.

Before this stretch began, CSNPhilly.com estimated that the Flyers needed 16 points to virtually assure themselves a playoff berth. They’re in great shape to do that now, holding down third place in the Metro Division with 86 points.

“It’s desperation,” Scott Hartnell said. “Guys are laying their bodies on the line, taking some hits to make plays, the little things that I think you need to be successful in the regular season. And if keep you playing that way in the playoffs, you’ll do all right as well.”

According to SportsClubStats.com, which we have cited for a couple years now to analyze the Flyers' postseason chances, Berube’s club has a 98.4 percent chance to make the postseason.

That’s about as good as it gets -- minus 1.6 percent.

But bad news nonetheless remains. The Flyers appeared destined to play the New York Rangers, a team that gives them fits and has pretty much owned them over the last three seasons, in the first round of the playoffs.

All it seems to take is one bad period against the Rangers for the Flyers, to lose and it happened again last week, as it has happened so often in recent past.

Matchups mean everything in hockey. The Flyers are perfectly suited to play and defeat a team like the Penguins, but they don’t match up well against the Rangers.

That said, if you look at what the Flyers have accomplished since their own March Madness began on March 15, they've defeated both Chicago and St. Louis, which were ranked No. 1 in the NHL on the days the Flyers met them, and toppled Pittsburgh twice.

They gained a point against the top-ranked team in the league this weekend in Boston.

“At this time of year sometimes it doesn’t matter -- the result. It’s just how you feel as a team, how you played as a team. And I think we’re pretty happy with how we played,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.

“Obviously, we wanted that other point [against Boston]. At the end of the day we’re pretty happy with the effort.”

The Flyers can skate with anyone and on most nights. They can come away with points.

That’s the encouraging part of going just 1-2-1 this past week with losses to the Kings and Rangers in regulation and to the Bruins in a shootout.

The Flyers needed to gain at least a point against Boston and they did. That’s a win in anyone’s book. Even Berube admitted after Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss that his team played as well as you could expect.

The Bruins and Flyers are big, nasty teams that almost mirror each other. If they were to meet in the playoffs, it would figure to be a memorable playoff series, much like the last two postseason meetings since 2010.

“It was a tough game,” said the Bruins’ Jarome Iginla. “We know Philly’s been playing well. They’ve been waiting, also, to try to make up a little bit for last time in here, so we knew they’d be ready.

“From our point of view, those are fun games. It’s fun to be a part of a physical, intense game. It was a great atmosphere here this afternoon. But it does feel good to win. It was a little adversity, a late goal, and they had a good push there going in the third, and we found a way to hold and win.”

You have to love Berube’s tactics this past week. He demoted Vinny Lecavalier to the fourth line, but moved him to center from left wing. All Lecavalier has done since is become an energized player, one who was actually skating the past two games. He finally got his 400th career goal on Sunday and has three since the move.

That’s Berube pressing the right buttons to produce positive results in what was a decidedly negative situation.

And that’s another important issue here. At a key point this late in the season, Berube made a tactical decision with a star player that paid off nicely. A lot of coaches would have been hesitant to do that this close to the playoffs.

The Flyers close out their deadly dozen next Saturday in Boston.

Monday afternoon, they'll travel to St. Louis for a second meeting on Tuesday against Ken Hitchcock’s Blues, then return home to host Columbus on Thursday.

“We’re going to St. Louis, and we just played them, it’s going to be another real competitive game,” Berube said.

“They’re good teams for a reason. Good teams play with good structure and follow the system and they play extremely hard.”

Just like the Flyers have been doing this month.

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