This was supposed to be cherry atop the sundae, capping a week in which the Flyers feasted on their fiercest rivals, the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins. It wasn’t supposed to be a meal in itself.
But after going from bad, to worse, to worst in the space of five days — lowlighted by blowing a three-goal lead to the Penguins and losing in regulation for the first time since 1993 — the Buffalo Sabres were the only thing left on the menu for Peter Laviolette’s beleaguered team.
Starved for a victory, they finally took care of business. But not before some anxious moments. After taking a two-goal lead into the third period, the Flyers got burned for a shorthanded goal, then needed Brayden Schenn to clear the puck off the line as it was trickling into the net to preserve a needed 3-2 win.
That moves them to 12-14-1 (11th in the East) and only two points behind the Devils. They’ll meet New Jersey in a home-and-home showdown beginning Wednesday in Newark, then back here Friday. At this point, with just 21 games remaining in their uphill climb, they can do the math.
“Our playoff lives are on the line right now and it’s going to take a lot to climb back in it,” said Schenn, who retrieved the puck after Cody Hodgson’s shot had found its way past Ilya Bryzgalov and got it out of danger just in time. “We believe in this room that we can. We still have a lot of hockey to be played.”
Power-play goals by Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux, wrapped around Max Talbot’s short-handed score, proved the difference. The name of the game is just get into the playoffs. Period. Then anything can happen — as Gagne, who won a Stanley Cup with the No. 8-seeded Kings last year knows all too well.
“In L.A. last year, almost right to the end of the season we were out of the playoffs,” said Gagne. “The last two games we were able to get in and get the momentum. When you’re in you get the same chance as a team that finishes first.”
Still, it’s a tall order for a team that has yet to win three in a row this season. They’ll say they hope this was a start, except they’ve already said that enough times to make anyone skeptical.
“We can’t continue to take on losses, not at this point,” said Laviolette. “You have to win hockey games if we want to put ourselves in a position in the last month to qualify for playoffs. I give the guys a tremendous amount of credit, because they did what they had to do tonight in order to take a step. We’re not out of the hole, but we took a step and now we need to take more steps.”
Because at this point it’s abundantly clear the Flyers simply have no margin for error.