Is this the night the Flyers essentially say “Goodbye Columbus?’’
Or will they hit a playoff snag going from facing the Blues to the Blue Jackets?
Coming off a strong performance in which they battled the Western Conference leaders from St Louis to the wire — and beyond — before going down in a shootout, Craig Berube’s team is one step closer today to clinching a playoff spot with 87 points.
Ray Emery earned them a valuable point in his best game of the season, turning aside all 28 shots in regulation and overtime before the Blues ultimately prevailed in the shootout, the one area where the Flyers continue to appear clueless.
The point lowered their “magic number’’ to assure a post-season berth down to six. Any combination of points they get over their remaining seven games coupled with points Toronto (82), Washington (81) and the Devils (80) don’t get will clinch an opportunity to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Of course, the Flyers want to do than just qualify for the competition. They’d prefer going in with momentum, especially if it earns them home ice advantage in the first round. Beating Columbus Thursday night — especially if they can do it in regulation — would not only aid that cause, but pretty much finish off any chances Sergei Bobrovsky’s new team has of catching them in the standings.
The Blue Jackets currently stand fourth in the division with 83 points, followed by Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, then the Devils. A Columbus win in regulation would make things interesting.
The other subplot is the goaltenders. Bobrovsky missed the first two games against his old team due to an injury, then turned aside 26 shots in a Jan. 23 5-2 win.
Steve Mason, who broke in with Columbus, the place where he won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 2009, wasn’t as sharp in his one appearance.
That was the game where the Flyers rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 down to steal a 5-4 decision with Claude Giroux scoring the game winner on a remarkable blind backhander with 1:38 left.
Despite Emery’s shutout in St. Louis, look for Berube to turn back to Mason tonight and again likely Saturday in Boston. Emery could play at home Sunday vs. Buffalo before the Flyers head to Florida for games against the Panthers and Lightning.
They wrap up the regular season next weekend at Pittsburgh, then vs. Carolina.
“We know it’s gonna be tough like this going down the stretch, so we’ve got to keep plugging away,” said defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who’ll likely welcome back Kimmo Timonen on the blue line, after Timonen took a puck to the chin against the Bruins and stayed home Tuesday. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do here, so we can’t take a night off.”
After running a gauntlet that’s included the Penguins twice, Blues twice, Bruins twice, Blackhawks, Kings and Rangers, even though the schedule may soften a bit down the stretch the Flyers don’t want to ease off the throttle.
If the Flyers, who hold two crucial games in hand, hope to make up the three point gap between them and the Rangers and also eliminate the Blue Jackets, they need this one.
“Down the stretch we’ve been doing great job, but we’ve got to keep going,’’ said Berube, now 39-24-9 since replacing Peter Laviolette. “This one’s big because it’s in the division and they’re right there.But they’re all big.”
And only continue to get bigger as the season draws to a close.