The Flyers’ reward for earning a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
They get to face Sidney Crosby and the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who won all four games between the cross-state rivals in the regular season.
The Flyers did pick up points in two of the losses — a pair of 5-4 overtime defeats in Pittsburgh — but they will have to tighten their defense if they are going to have any chance at an upset.
The Flyers allowed five goals in each of the four games, and their special teams weren’t so special.
In their 5-4 OT loss in Pittsburgh last month, the Flyers outshot the Pengiins (45-32), won 61 percent of the faceoffs, and outhit them (21-19).
“We had a lot of good stretches of play and just a couple of breakdowns here and there,” said winger Jordan Weal after collecting a career-high three points in that game. “They have some really good players on that side and they capitalized on their opportunities. We haven’t played a 60-minute game against that team yet, but if we meet them down the road, I think we’ll be able to put our full foot forward.”
In their four-game series this season, the Penguins were 5 for 13 (38.5 percent) on the power play while the Flyers were just 2 for 16 (12.5 percent).
Crosby (nine points) and and Evgeni Malkin (five) combined for 14 points in the four games against the Flyers, while Philadelphia’s big guns — Claude Giroux (four) and Jake Voracek (one) — had just five points against Pittsburgh.
The Flyers, who would have matched up better with the Capitals, finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 98 points — just two points fewer than the second-place Penguins.
The Flyers, behind Giroux’s hat trick, scored a 5-0 win over the visiting New York Rangers on Saturday to clinch a playoff spot. They began the day in the second wild-card spot, but they climbed ahead of New Jersey and Columbus, teams that sat some key players in their respective games Saturday, perhaps because they preferred to lose and not play the Penguins?
New Jersey lost in Washington, 5-3, and Columbus lost in Nashville, 4-2.
Coach Dave Hakstol said the Flyers’ victory was “more than just a win. It’s a big win. This is the one that solidifies an opportunity to be one of those 16 playoff teams, and now the page turns really quickly. Now it’s a clean slate; it’s a new season and there’s a new goal.”
The first two games of the Flyers-Penguins series will be in Pittsburgh, but the NHL has yet to announce the dates.
The Flyers will make their 39th playoff appearance and their first since 2016. They finished with 98 points, a 10-point improvement over last season.
The attendance Saturday was 20,028, a regular-season franchise home record, excluding the 2012 Winter Classic….Giroux became the sixth player in franchise history to collect 100 points in a season…..Sean Couturier finished the season with a plus-34 rating, the highest for a Flyer since Eric Lindros finished plus-35 in 1998-99. Couturier was third in the NHL heading into Saturday night…..Michael Raffl had his first two-point game since Dec. 4.