The Flyers still control their playoff destiny, but they made things more difficult on themselves with Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to an Islanders team that had lost 16 of its previous 19 games.
With two regular-season games remaining, the Flyers’ magic number remains at three points. Any combination of three points – those gained by the Flyers or not secured by Florida – will clinch a playoff berth for Philadelphia.
The Flyers, who had their eight-game points streak (5-0-3) snapped Tuesday, will host Carolina on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday afternoon. They are 2-1 against the Hurricanes and 2-1 against the Rangers this season.
“We’ve got to worry about [Thursday] night and taking care of that,” center Scott Laughton said after Wednesday’s optional practice in Voorhees.
Florida has three games left, but even if the Panthers run the table, the Flyers would clinch a berth with a win and an overtime/shootout loss in its two games.
Goalie Brian Elliott, who is recovering from core-muscle surgery and hasn’t played since Feb. 10, did not rule out the possibility of returning Thursday. He called recovery an “ongoing process, and you keep evaluating it every day. It’s a process.”
“He’s got a lot of experience and he’s been in all situations before, so it’ll be good to get him back,” Laughton said. “I think the boys are looking forward to it, too.”
Coach Dave Hakstol would not reveal Thursday’s starter.
Asked about playing against the Hurricanes, Elliott said “nothing is ruled out right now. That’s a good thing to be talking like that. You’ve got to be happy how things have progressed.”
Petr Mrazek, who 6-6-3 with a 3.22 goals-against average and .891 save percentage since being acquired from Detroit, and Alex Lyon (4-2-1, 2.75, .905) are the other goalies available.
“Obviously, if there was more time, it would help, but we don’t have that,” Elliott said. “You have to weigh everything. It’s difficult. Everybody has been playing well, and this last stretch we’ve put ourselves in a really good spot. [Tuesday] night, we obviously could have put an exclamation point on it, but we have to look at these last two games. It’s pretty fun that it’s an 82-game schedule and every one matters.”
According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers have a 93 percent chance to make the playoffs.
But their regulation loss to the Islanders was costly. It means, for all intents and purposes, they can no longer finish second in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh (96 points) will play at Columbus (96) on Thursday, meaning one of the teams is assured of getting to 98 points.
The Flyers (94 points) can get a maximum of 98 points, but they would lose the tie-breaker to both the Penguins and Blue Jackets. Technically, the Flyers could win the tie-breaker (goal differential) with Columbus, but the Jackets are at plus-15 and the Flyers are at plus-2, so it would take a minor miracle for that to happen.
The Flyers are in the second wild-card spot, but there are many scenarios in which they could move to the top wild card and face Washington in the first round. For instance, if they win their next two games and Columbus (which faces Pittsburgh and Nashville) picks up just one point, the Flyers would climb ahead of the Blue Jackets.
The Flyers have the tie-breaker against New Jersey (95 points), which is in the top wild-card spot and has games against Toronto and Washington.
If the Flyers finished in the second wild-card spot, they would face either Boston or Tampa Bay; those two teams are battling for the Atlantic Division title.
The Flyers could finish as high as third in the Metro and play the second-place team. They could also miss the playoffs if they collapse and Florida (90 points) keeps surging. The Panthers have two tough games with Boston sandwiched around a matchup against Buffalo.
“I believe in this group,” Elliott said. “… It’s exciting to have this opportunity, but we have to take care of business.”
Hakstol’s team showed little urgency in the first 40 minutes Tuesday, but he downplayed the loss.
“We had a setback, much like everyone along the way is going to have,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of just having a good strong response.”
Laughton is expected to return to the lineup after a one-game benching. … Elliott: “I’m definitely itching to get back with the group. It’s not fun watching. Mentally, it’s probably harder than anything.”… Mrazek dropped a 4-1 home decision to the Hurricanes as former Flyer Justin Williams scored two goals on March 1. In the other games against the Hurricanes, Elliott was a 2-1 OT winner Feb. 6, and Lyon was a 4-2 winner March 17. … Claude Giroux, who has points in eight straight games, has set career highs in points (97) and goals (30). He needs three points over the last two games to become the first Flyer to reach the century mark since Eric Lindros in 1995-96.