Flyers clinch playoff birth
Following Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Philadelphia Flyers officially clinched a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
They are only the fifth team in the entire NHL to do so.
Even more impressively, the Flyers join their bitter rivals, the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins as the only teams in the Eastern Conference to punch a ticket to the second season, which speaks to how competitive the Atlantic Division has been.
This is now the fifth consecutive year and the 36th time in 44 seasons of operation that the Flyers have qualified for the postseason, a true testament to the quality of the franchise.
While there was scenarios in place that could have seen the Flyers clinch a birth without gaining any points, the one sure-fire way to do so was to win against the Canadiens on Saturday night.
They quickly got to work on doing just that.
The Flyers opened the scoring at the midway mark of the first when Kimmo Timonen blasted a shot from the point six seconds into the team’s first power play of the night.
After controlling play in the first, Montreal answered back in the second when Tomas Plekanec beat Ilya Bryzgalov with a beautiful breakaway goal.
At the end of the night, Plekanec’s goal proved to be only blemish for Bryzgalov. He stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced and continued to perform just as solidly as he has over the past month.
For a short time after the goal, the Canadiens seemed to gain a bit of momentum and applied some pressure to the Flyers zone.
That was quickly squashed when Daniel Briere regained the Flyers lead with a deflection on the team’s third power play of the game.
Ten minutes later, Briere added another power play goal on the team’s next man advantage when he roofed a magnificent shot into the top left corner.
Much of the Flyers success on Saturday night came from the fact that their first three goals came on the power play. The team ended the night three for five on the man advantage.
Late in the third, Matt Read added a fourth goal with only two minutes remaining that cemented the team’s ticket to the postseason.
With a playoff birth in the bag, the team now turns their sights to winning the division.
Despite being back 11 points of the division lead at the start of the month, the Flyers have ridden a dominating 10-2-1 record in March to pull back into the thick of the division race.
Utilizing a highly defensive form of hockey, eight of the team’s 13 games this month have been decided by a single goal.
They now sit at 96 points with seven games remaining in the regular season.
With Pittsburgh’s embarrassing 8-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Flyers now trail their cross-state rival by only two points (the Penguins have a game in hand).
Much like the Flyers, the Rangers also won on Saturday night and increased their total to 101 points this season, tied for the most in the NHL.
For the Flyers, the goal is clear; amass as many points as they possibly can to climb up the standings as high as they can.
Even if they can’t win the division, they could still earn home-ice advantage in the first round by earning the fourth seed.
Ultimately, a lot of the factors are out of the Flyers hands. All they can do is win as much as they possibly can.
Luckily, they will have a chance to try and mold their own destiny.
Three of the team’s four reaming games will come against both the Penguins and Rangers in the final week of the season, which includes two separate visits to Pittsburgh.
While it will undoubtedly prove to be a challenge, the games will in all likely-hood determine the Flyers final position in the standings.
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