The Flyers have done an admirable job overcoming an awful start and putting themselves in the thick of the playoff race.
But with just six points separating the second- and seventh-place teams in the Metropolitan Division, there is little margin for error in the final 23 regular-season games. The third-place Flyers, who had a four-game winning streak when the NHL paused for the Olympic break, resume play Thursday with a difficult test against visiting San Jose.
“After the break, you have to show up every 60 minutes because if you lose one game, you can go from in the playoffs to out of the playoffs,” winger Matt Read said after Thursday’s practice in Voorhees. “It’s tight and every game matters; it’s going to be a playoff mentality right off the hop.”
“We have to hit the ground running,” goalie Steve Mason said. “”We can’t just coast into this next month of the season and hope for the best. We have some really tough opponents coming up, and we have to make sure we’re taking it to them and not the other way around.”
For the Flyers, the restart has to be much better than their start. They began the season 1-7 _ their worst record after eight games in franchise history _ but have regrouped nicely. Since then, they are 29-16-6 and have climbed into third place in the Metro, one point behind the New York Rangers. The top three teams in each division earn playoff berths, along with two wild-card teams in each conference.
The Flyers were playing their best hockey of the season before the break, recording wins over Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado and Calgary.
“We have to pick up with that team mentality that we had,” winger Scott Hartnell said. “When we slid, before that four-game winning streak, guys were trying to do too much _ too cute and all that stuff. The last four games were everything deep (in the zone), everything in, and sacrifice for each other. I think we have to try to continue on that this week and get as many game-like practices as we can. We play a great opponent Thursday against the Sharks, so we have to be ready to go.”
The Flyers’ first five games after the break are against San Jose, the Rangers, Washington (twice) and Toronto. All are in playoff spots except the Capitals, who are one-point away from a wild-card berth.
US-Canada showdown. Hartnell, the Flyers’ Canadian-born winger, says he will be rooting for his homeland because “it’s in my blood,” when it faces Team USA in Friday’s noon Olympic semifinal, but conceded the skill level on the teams was a “tossup.”
Flyers center Sean Couturier has dual citizenship _ he was born in America and spent most of his life in Canada _ but he has allegiance to the latter. “I grew up there and played for Team Canada in World Juniors…so I consider myself more Canadian,” he said. “I think it’ll be a tight game. Low scoring. Maybe 3-2, Canada.”
Adam Hall and Hal Gill are the only Americans on the Flyers.
Breakaways. Defenseman Nick Grossmann, under the watchful eye of assistant Ian Laperriere, did skating drills down one end of the ice while the team had a three-on-three scrimmage down the other end. “Coming off a break like this, you’re always trying to get your body into the right gear,” Grossmann said. ….The four Flyers Olympians whose teams have been eliminated _ Jake Voracek (Czech Republic), Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia), Michael Raffl (Austria) and Mark Streit (Switzerland) _ will report to the Flyers’ practice facility on Sunday. Kimmo Timonen’s Finland team plays Sweden in Friday’s semifinals.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.