TORONTO – Tonight, in game No. 80 of the season, the Flyers will irrevocably head down one of two paths.
They can win at the Air Canada Centre, and with some help from other Eastern Conference teams, slide into the sixth seed and have a stranglehold on a playoff spot.
They can drop the ball against the last place Maple Leafs, a team that has been one of the NHL’s hottest over the last few weeks, and begin to slide down a slippery slope heading into their last two regular season games against the Rangers.
Toronto, 9-3-2 since they last met the Flyers on March 7, would love nothing more than to ruin the Flyers’ playoff push.
“These games may not have the same meaning to us,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said this morning, “but it is imperative that we win these last three games. This playoff intensity is something I want our younger players to see. It is something I want our older players, who have been there before, to remember.”
Wilson said his team has an “attitude” and a “swagger” about them since the Olympic break.
-A Flyers win and Rangers loss tonight would push Philadelphia’s magic number down to two points with two games remaining. A Montreal loss would also move the Flyers up to sixth place.
-A Flyers loss and a Rangers win would keep the Flyers’ magic number at six points with just two games remaining, meaning the Flyers would need to sweep both games against New York this weekend – with at least one of the wins coming in regulation – to qualify for the postseason.
“There’s three games left,” Danny Briere said at the Flyers’ morning skate. “There’s no turning back. There’s no looking back anymore. There’s no other way around it. We have to get the job done.
“It’s exciting. It’s maybe not the best position to be in but motivation will be easy to come by tonight.”
Either way, Toronto will figure heavily into the East’s final playoff picture. The Leafs will be at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to face the Rangers before traveling to Montreal on Sunday.
Mathematically, a Flyers win and Rangers loss tonight coupled with a Toronto win tomorrow night in New York could clinch a playoff berth for the Flyers before they even see the Rangers.
None of that can happen without a win tonight in TO.
“Toronto has no pressure,” Briere said. “They have nothing to lose. Those teams are very dangerous. We saw what happened with the Islanders last week. We expect the last few games to be very difficult to play.”
GAME NOTES: Maple Leafs leading scorer Phil Kessel will be a game-time decision tonight, according to head coach Ron Wilson. Kessel is battling an undisclosed muscle injury but did participate in Toronto’s full workout this morning … Johan Backlund took shots at the end of the Flyers’ skate but will not dress tonight … The Flyers’ lineup is expected to remain the same from Sunday’s 4-3 win over Detroit.
Follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DNFlyers) for the latest updates.