Barring an epic collapse, the Flyers won’t need a regular-season finale shootout to clinch a playoff spot. On the other hand, unlike last year, squeezing in as a No. 7 seed probably won’t earn you home ice in the Eastern Conference finals.
Meaning the race for playoff positioning is already on with 29 games to go. Let a point or two slip away tomorrow, and it might come back to haunt you come April and May.
But the Flyers, leading the Atlantic Division by three points over the injury-riddled Penguins, insist they wouldn’t have it any other way. Only 10 points separate the top six teams in the East, making every point precious.
“Every team is fighting for something — and if you don’t fight for it, you won’t make it,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “You can’t afford to take any games lightly.”
Any significant skid could prove disastrous, since the Atlantic runner-up can qualify no higher than No. 4.
“I like having the teams right on our heels pushing us to be better,” said Danny Briere. “In a sense you want them to go away, but at the same time it keeps you working hard and focused.”
While the playoffs figure to be a challenge all their own, playing as many home games as possible is their likeliest ticket to long-term success.
“Obviously, we’re focused on getting home ice throughout the playoffs,” said Jeff Carter, whose 25 goals trails Briere (26) for the team lead. “It’s kind of our goal right now. We saw how big it was last year.”