Excuse the Flyers if they weren’t too celebratory about their win over the New York Rangers last night.
Yes, it was a big win. Yes, it was probably the win that in a couple weeks we will look back on and say was the one that ultimately secured them a playoff berth.
With another mini-stretch of tough games on the horizon, and the teams behind them making up most of their games in hand in the next week, it was a win of absolute necessity.
But it wasn’t pretty.
It took a strong effort from goalie Alex Lyon to keep them from losing a second straight game to a non-playoff team. It took some more next-level speed and agility from their budding star winger Travis Konecny to spark the offense – despite the fact that he was curiously missing from the ice for most of the third period. It took another three-point night from the captain, Claude Giroux, who might well be the most important player to his team in the entire NHL this season.
Beyond that, though, you pretty much held your nose to avoid the odor and also to hold your breath that an unwanted, in-game collapse wouldn’t take place.
OK, Ok… the second line was decent on the whole – Jake Voracek scored a goal on a great individual effort and Oskar Lindblom did register his second NHL goal cleaning up the rebound of a good shot by Nolan Patrick, but really, on the whole, the Flyers were out-skated by the Rangers. They were out out-worked by the Rangers. And the Rangers have nothing to play for while the Flyers definitely do.
It’s hard to be critical after a win. The Flyers did what they had to do and earned two very big points in the standings. They gave themselves a comfortable cushion again, and reduce their magic number over New Jersey to 13 points (either earned by the Flyers or lost by the Devils) and 14 points over Florida.
That may seem like a lot, with seven games to go, but it could be reduced to nine and 12 respectively by the time the Flyers take the ice again in Pittsburgh on Sunday – and they only need to finish ahead of one of those teams to make the playoffs.
Not only that, the Flyers have again climbed within a point of second place Pittsburgh and could well head north in the standings if they can get their act together.
It’s as if they’re fighting a war on two fronts. They are simultaneously in a battle with Pittsburgh and Columbus for second place in the Metropolitan Division as they are with New Jersey and Florida for the two Eastern Conference Wild Card spots, with one team going to end up on the outside looking in (my forecast has New Jersey missing the playoffs at this point).
And yet, despite all of this, the focus after the game wasn’t really on the positive (except for Lyon, who continues to be a solid relief pitcher of sorts for the Flyers, playing his best games when he has to put out fires).
No, instead, everyone talked about how uneven the team played. How there are still too many mistakes happening. How they still need to play better.
And, of course, there was always the questioning of the coach’s rationale for the in-game decisions he makes – although this time he gave a very direct and fair answer to questions about his in-game choices – even if I still don’t agree with it.
It’s a lot to tackle, so let’s do it one at a time.