After the Flyers’ 1-0 shootout win in Montreal on Feb. 26, they moved atop the Metropolitan Division and were 13 points ahead of the team just out of a wild-card spot (the Islanders) and a staggering 16 points ahead of Florida.
Since then, the Flyers have lost six of seven and dropped to third place in the Metro. In addition, they are just six points ahead of surging Florida (which is on an 8-1-1 run), and the Panthers have three games in hand and are battling to get into a wild-card spot.
With that as a backdrop, the Flyers have a virtual must-win game Thursday against visiting Columbus.
The good news: The Flyers have shown resiliency all season, overcoming a 10-game losing streak and the loss of their two top goalies to climb from last place to (briefly) first place in the Metro.
Twelve regular-season games remain. Games that will show whether they can be resilient down the home stretch.
Columbus, which has won five straight, is two points behind the Flyers, and Thursday’s matchup figures to be a tight, low-scoring affair. The teams have met three times this season, and each game has ended in a 2-1 final. Columbus won in a shootout Dec. 23, and the Flyers won in overtime Feb. 16 and in regulation Feb. 22. In the last meeting, Petr Mrazek made 19 saves and collected his first win as a Flyer.
“I love this time of the year,” said Mrazek, who is 2-3-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in his career against the Blue Jackets. “I enjoy it so much. Everybody can feel the pressure, but in a good way, so I’m looking forward to it.”
On Thursday, Mrazek will face Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 9-3-1 with a 1.82 GAA and .936 save percentage against his ex-teammates.
“I think he’s the best goalie in the league right now,” Flyers winger Michael Raffl said after Thursday’s morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “But you can’t stop what you can’t see. We have to get in front of him and get some greasy rebounds.”
Overall, Bobrovsky is 30-21-5 with a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage. With the Flyers, Mrazek is 4-4-1 with a 2.85 GAA average and .898 save percentage.
If the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek gets at least five regular-season wins, the fourth-round draft pick they will send Detroit in June will become a third-rounder.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion at the time that the Flyers would make the playoffs and Mrazek would get at least five wins. But the Flyers, with their special teams being the main culprit, have made things tough on themselves lately and nothing is guaranteed.
“You have to enjoy the battle, and I think the guys do,” said coach Dave Hakstol, whose team is trying to rebound from Monday’s crushing 3-2 defeat to Vegas, which scored the winner with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left. “You look at the standings and everything is tight. These are big games, day in and day out, and every game you play is your next-biggest game. Those are things that I think as a team we embrace, and you have to go out and enjoy the challenge of it.”
The Flyers are just 17-12-6 at the Wells Fargo Center; they are the only team in a current playoff spot that has a losing record at home.
“Our record at home is not what we want, but it’s not terrible,” Hakstol said. “But you know what? You have to win games at home. We’ve lost a couple tight ones here, especially of late. … Sometimes, there’s a little extra pressure when you play at home. You feel like you have to do a little bit more rather than keep it a little bit simpler. So it’s just that fine line of being able to use the home-ice atmosphere to our advantage.”
Half of the Flyers’ 12 remaining games will be at the Wells Fargo Center.
In their last nine games, the Flyers are just 3 for 30 on the power play. In that span, their PK has allowed seven goals in 24 opportunities. … Claude Giroux has 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in his last 17 games and has a seven-game points streak. … Shayne Gostisbehere is averaging 0.77 points per game. The Flyers have had only three defensemen average more than that in a season in which they played at least 60 games: Mark Howe (four times), Garry Galley, and Behn Wilson. … Columbus has just four games remaining against teams in a current playoff spot. The Flyers have six games left against such teams.