The Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup playoff series since 2012, back when they were clearly in the head of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
That was then. Now Fleury — who had an .834 save percentage and allowed a whopping 26 goals in that high-scoring series — is starring for Vegas, and the Flyers don’t match up well with the Penguins. Assuming the Flyers don’t falter in the final seven regular-season games and earn a playoff spot, they would have a better chance to win a first-round series against an opponent that isn’t an in-state rival.
The Flyers have been an enigma. They have been either very good and exciting to watch as their young players have blended in nicely with their veterans, or very bad as their poor special-teams play and their slow starts have seemed to coincide during maddening stretches.
If the former team shows up, they could be dangerous in the playoffs.
If not …
With two weeks left in their regular season, the Flyers could still finish in the top three in the tightly packed Metropolitan Division and earn an automatic playoff berth. They could also finish as one of the conference’s two wild-card teams, or, with a colossal collapse, could miss the playoffs all together.
The best bet is that the Flyers will face Washington or Pittsburgh in the opening round. Then again, it’s the NHL, so expecting anything logical to happen is extremely dangerous.
The second- and third-place Metropolitan teams will meet in the first round, and the Metro champion will face the top wild-card team. Because the Atlantic champion (likely Tampa Bay, possibly Boston) will have a better record than the Metro champ, it will face the lower wild-card team. The Flyers want to avoid that matchup.
Here are the potential opponents the Flyers could face in the first round, depending on how the last two weeks play out.
Washington: The Capitals might win the Metro, but this would not be a mismatch if the teams met. The Flyers went 3-1 against the Caps and outscored them 19-11. They would match up much better against Alex Ovechkin and company than they did in the 2016 playoffs, when goalie Michal Neuvirth was the only reason the Flyers extended the series to six games before losing.
Pittsburgh: Yes, it would be entertaining, but this is a series the Flyers shouldn’t want. They haven’t been able to contain the Penguins’ speed and transition game. The Flyers are 0-2-1 this season against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions — the teams meet in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon — and they have allowed five goals in each loss. Enough said.
Tampa Bay: The Flyers have gotten into some run-and-gun games with the Lightning — who have the league’s highest-scoring team — and have had mixed results, going 1-1-1. On paper, Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay is the best team in the East (and maybe the NHL), so a first-round matchup is not on the Flyers’ wish list.
Boston: The Flyers couldn’t beat the Bruins on March 8 when they were missing several key players, dropping a 3-2 decision on Brad Marchand’s goal with 22 seconds left. The Bruins, who are strong in all areas, won an earlier matchup at the Wells Fargo Center, 3-0, and the teams will meet again on April 1. Even if the “good” Flyers showed up in the playoffs, the Bruins would probably make it a short series because of their superb defense.
New Jersey: No disrespect meant to New Jersey — general manager Ray Shero has done an admirable job rebuilding this team — but the Flyers would have their best chance to reach the second round if they met the Devils. The Flyers went 2-1-1 against New Jersey in the regular season and averaged nearly four goals per game.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets made improvements at the trade deadline — they added veterans Ian Cole, Thomas Vanek, and Mark Letestu — and would be a tough matchup for the Flyers, who went 2-2 against Columbus this season. The X-factor is former Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a regular-season wonder who has a history of disappearing in the playoffs — a 3-10 record with a 3.63 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage.
Florida: The young, speedy Panthers went 2-1 against the Flyers, and this would be a long, fascinating series. The Flyers’ veteran forwards might give them an edge, but their power play, which went just 1 for 10 against Florida, would have to play better for them to survive. The Flyers would probably have to win the Metro while the Panthers got the top wild-card spot to make this matchup a reality. In other words, it’s highly unlikely.