BUFFALO -- With just two games remaining, the Flyers control their own destiny - to a point.
They can win out, and with the help of a Washington loss against Florida on Saturday night, can still claim the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference that they held from Jan. 4 to April 2.
Or, they can split the remainder of the schedule or lose both contests and finish as the second, third, or fourth seed in the East ... all of which severely complicates their playoff opponents.
Most years, teams can almost chart their own course and pick their opponent in the first round if they wished. Not this year, not with spots sixth through eighth so close.
With that said, here are the Flyers’ four possible playoff opponents. Who would you like to see?
5. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Scenario: Flyers would need to finish 4th, can finish as high as 4th
Record: 47-25-8 (99 points)
Last 10 games: 5-3-2
Games remaining: vs. Florida (Friday), at Carolina (Saturday)
Flyers’ record this season: 1-3-0
Top weapons: Marty St. Louis (95 points), Steven Stamkos (89 points)
Goalie: Dwayne Roloson (23-25-5)
Playoff history: Last met 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Flyers lost 4-3
6. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Scenario: Clinched playoff spot, currently 6th, can fall to 8th
Record: 43-30-8 (94 points)
Last 10 games: 4-5-1
Games remaining: at Toronto (Saturday)
Flyers’ record this season: 3-1-0
Top weapons: Tomas Plekanec (56 ponts), Michael Cammalleri (47 points)
Goalie: Carey Price (37-28-6)
Playoff history: Last met 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, Flyers won 4-1
7. BUFFALO SABRES
Scenario: Currently 7th, can clinch with one point tonight vs. Flyers
Record: 41-29-10 (92 points)
Last 10 games: 7-1-2
Games remaining: vs. Flyers (Friday), at Columbus (Saturday)
Flyers’ record this season: 2-1-0
Top weapons: Thomas Vanek (70 points), Drew Stafford (51 points)
Goalie: Ryan Miller (33-22-8)
Playoff history: Last met 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Flyers lost 4-2
8. NEW YORK RANGERS
Scenario: 8th place, can be eliminated with Carolina win Friday and Rangers loss Saturday
Record: 43-33-5 (91 points)
Last 10 games: 6-3-1
Games remaining: vs. Devils (Saturday)
Flyers’ record this season: 4-1-1
Top weapons: Marian Gaborik (47 points), Brandon Dubinsky (53 points)
Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist (35-27-5)
Playoff history: Last met 1997 Eastern Conference Finals, Flyers won 4-1
9. CAROLINA HURRICANES
Scenario: Out of playoffs, can finish as high as 7th place
Record: 39-30-11 (89 points)
Last 10 games: 7-2-1
Games remaining: at Atlanta (Friday), vs. Tampa Bay (Saturday)
Flyers’ record this season: 3-1-0
Top weapons: Eric Staal (75 points), Jeff Skinner (59 points)
Goalie: Cam Ward (36-25-10)
Playoff history: Have never met, Carolina won 2006 Stanley Cup
Now, here are some interesting notes:
- The Rangers’ playoff chances took a huge hit on Thursday night with their shutout loss to Atlanta. If the Rangers do not collect any points on Saturday against the Devils, the Hurricanes will need just two points in their final two games to clinch a spot.
- The Rangers can finish as high as 7th place but cannot pass Montreal. Carolina can also not pass Montreal, though Buffalo can.
- The entire Eastern Conference playoff picture could be set as early as Saturday night, depending on how the Flyers play.
- For the Flyers, they need to win out and need a Washington loss against Florida for the No. 1 spot. Their magic number to win the Atlantic division against Pittsburgh remains at 3 points - either won by the Flyers or lost by Pittsburgh. The Penguins skate on Long Island on Friday night and are in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
THE CALL: If there are two teams the Flyers should want to avoid in the first round, it would be Tampa Bay and Buffalo.
The Sabres have played well of late, finding their offense and they have gotten solid goaltending - whether from Ryan Miller (injured) or Jhonas Enroth. Enroth is 8-2-2 (18 out of 22 points) this season and has more shutouts than the entire Flyers team. Enroth has more wins this year than other Sabres backup Patrick Lalime had in 3 seasons’ worth of 47 starts. Go figure.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, matches up with the Flyers like the Flyers did last year against New Jersey: pretty well. We know how that turned out. Though three of the four games this year were one-goal games between the two teams, Tampa Bay plays a boring, trapping system that seems to lull the Flyers to sleep. And they have to offensive talent to capitalize on the limited chances that the Flyers will give up. The Flyers can avoid Tampa Bay by winning both of their remaining games.
Then again, the Flyers won’t be able to pick their opponent. No team will. That’s why the season is 82 games long.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
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