Defense, goaltending will determine Flyers playoff fate

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There wasn’t much room to skate, pass or even shoot during the Flyers’ 1-0 overtime loss to the Kings on Saturday afternoon.

After one or, at the most, two strides, a player with the puck was checked by an opposing jersey. Finding a passing lane was an arduous task and getting off a shot was even harder.

There wasn’t much room to do anything and the game wasn’t exactly what you would call exciting hockey, either. However, fans better get used to this style of play over the final 30 games of the season.

“I think every game you’ll see it get tighter and tighter,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said.

Welcome to the playoff stretch drive.

It’s the time of the year when teams that want to make the playoffs sharpen their game and focus more on defense.

“That is what everybody is going to do now,” winger Jake Voracek said. “It’s extra hard. Every lane, passingwise, shootingwise is hard to get. You have to move your feet and create that space.”

The Flyers, who hold the final wild-card spot going into Sunday’s games, know that if they are going to make the playoffs, it’s going to be on the back of their defense.

Just take a look at their last six games. Aside from their dud last Tuesday against the Hurricanes, the Flyers have allowed five goals in their last five wins.

On Saturday, the Flyers blocked 29 shots and goalie Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves before Jeff Carter ended the game in OT. In Thursday’s 3-1 victory, the Canadiens managed just 16 shots, which were the fewest the Flyers have allowed in a game in two years.

“That was a complete 60 minutes of effort,” Neuvirth said following the Montreal game. “We played really good. That’s a pretty good team over there, but we didn’t give them much. It felt like we were playing playoff hockey. We played great defensively and waited for our chances.”

A big key to the defensive strategy is goaltending, of course, and for the last two games Neuvirth has been outstanding. When the Flyers had a breakdown or coughed up the puck in their own end, Neuvirth was brilliant and bailed them out.

Steve Mason has also looked sharp in the last couple of games that he started.

“[Neuvirth] had a calmness to his game today and I think that’s an important aspect,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He probably made three or four big saves for us and a bunch of other pretty good ones. He went out and he did his job and he was a big part of us gaining one point.”

If nothing else, it was a hard-earned point and a valuable one.

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