Fading Flyers searching for consistency, better starts as playoff race tightens

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Flyers rookie goalie Alex Lyon, shown making a stop while Montreal’s Nicolas Deslauriers battles in front last month, will get the start Saturday night in Carolina.

The enigmatic Flyers could still finish first, but seven losses in their last eight games make it more likely they will miss the playoffs than climb atop the Metropolitan Division.

With 11 games left, the Flyers are tied for third with Columbus with 81 points. Realistically, there are four teams fighting for the final three playoff spots – the Flyers, Columbus, New Jersey (80 points, game in hand) and Florida (77 points, three games in hand).

The Flyers’ tailspin has followed a stretch in which they went 10-0-2 and briefly moved into first place.

“We’ve talked about being consistent, and we’re doing the exact opposite,” defenseman Radko Gudas said after practice Friday in Voorhees. “It’s a little bit frustrating, but we know once we start winning again, things are going to start going our way. We’re in a tough spot right now, but I think we’re still in a good position in the standings.”

The Flyers (35-25-11), who fell into an early 3-1 hole and dropped a 5-3 decision to visiting Columbus on Thursday, play in Carolina (30-29-11) on Saturday night then host Washington on Sunday at 5 p.m.

“Now we need to get everything together and make the final push,” Gudas said. “Everything’s on the line now. We have to play for 60 minutes.  The last game, the first period cost us two points.  We have to be ready from when the puck drops.”

The Flyers are familiar with skids. They had a 10-game winless streak earlier in the season before winning their next six games.

Captain Claude Giroux said the Flyers need better starts, but he feels confident about the home stretch.

“We’ve been in this position before, and we got out of it pretty well,” said Giroux, adding he had no ill effects from taking a puck to the mouth and being administered stitches Thursday.

Rookie Alex Lyon, who stopped all 18 shots he faced in a relief role Thursday, will start Saturday’s game.

“He’s been playing great for us,” Giroux said.

Lyon called it “extremely exciting” to play in such a meaningful game. “It’s what you think about when you’re a little kid.”

The Minnesota native noted he was in the middle of the playoff hunt last season with the AHL’s Phantoms.

“It’s not quite the same, but in Allentown we were in a pretty hot playoff race last year,” he said. “I’m going to draw on my past experiences and just focus one day at a time.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said there was a chance he would make a “change or two” in Saturday’s lineup. “Maybe in terms of combinations. Maybe even in terms of who’s in and out of the lineup. We’re looking at a couple of different things just to try to change a little bit of the rhythm and a little bit of the chemistry.”

All the moves will be designed to hold off Columbus, New Jersey, and Florida, three surging teams trying to overtake the plunging Flyers.

Here is a look at the four teams and what awaits them:

Flyers

Points: 81.

ROW (regulation and overtime wins, which is the tie-breaker): 33.

Games left: 11 (five home, six away).

Games left against non-playoff teams: six.

Games left against the three teams in playoff battle: none.

Current streak: lost seven of last eight.

Columbus

Points: 81.

ROW: 32.

Games left: 11 (five home, six away)

Games left against non-playoff teams: eight.

Games left against the three teams in playoff battle:  vs. Florida on Thursday.

Current streak: won last six.

New Jersey

Points: 80.

ROW: 31.

Games left:  12 (six home, six away)

Games left against non-playoff teams: five.

Games left against the three teams in playoff battle: none.

Current streak: started a tough six-game road trip with upset wins in Nashville and Vegas.

Florida

Points: 77.

ROW: 32.

Games left: 14 (six home, eight away).

Games left against non-playoff teams: eight.

Games left against the three teams in playoff battle: at Columbus on Thursday.

Current streak: owns a 16-4-1 record since the all-star break.

Breakaways

Defenseman Robert Hagg (lower-body injury), who practiced again Friday, said he was “feeling better and better” and was getting close to returning to the lineup. Asked if he thought he could pay Saturday, Hagg said, “We’ll see.” … The Flyers are 1-1 this season against the Hurricanes, who have dropped four of their last five games. … Giroux has an eight-game points streak.