The Philadelphia Flyers knew going into April 26 that they had four potential opponents for the next round. Flyers fans like myself were rooting for any scenario that gave them home ice advantage for round two - and got the New York Rangers knocked out early to boot. But since the Rangers survived the Ottawa Senators, that left either the Florida Panthers or the New Jersey Devils as possible opponents.
Philadelphia had its way with both Florida and New Jersey this season, so it would have been favored either way. Yet after the Devils took two overtimes to finally eliminate the Panthers in Game 7, the Flyers could take extra strength in how they actually got to stay home for Games 1 and 2.
Thanks to the Devils and Washington Capitals, the Flyers have gone from a No. 5 seed to the second seed in the revamped Eastern Conference bracket. Then again, since the Rangers were the only higher seed in the East to win in the first round - and needed seven games to do that - the Devils might have the Flyers right where they want them.
Yet Philadelphia went 2-1 at the Wells Fargo Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is better than the vast majority of teams which played at home. The Flyers are supposed to have one of the most feared home ice advantages in hockey, so maybe that will help it survive where so many higher seeds - including the Penguins - could not.
They will start finding out exactly a week after their last game, as Philadelphia's seven-day rest period ends on April 29 for Game 1 against New Jersey. After this Sunday afternoon opener, the Flyers and Devils will get just one day off before Game 2 on May 1, then make the short trip to New Jersey for Games 3 and 4 on May 3 and May 6.
If they need to play more - and if this is the Flyers' first second round series in years where no one has a 3-0 lead - Game 5 will bring things back to Philadelphia on May 8. If that's not enough to end things, Game 6 will be hosted by the Devils on May 10 - and then if there's a Game 7 on May 12, the Flyers will see just how lucky they were to get home ice for this round.
The last Flyers-Devils Game 7 ended rather badly for the Flyers at Philadelphia in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Hopefully history won't have to repeat itself and they can advance a little earlier - and can hold a 3-1 advantage if they get it.
All of a sudden, Philadelphia has gone from a big underdog over Pittsburgh in the opening round to a big favorite with home ice in the next. Can the Flyers still win without having to be the underdog - or having to rally back from deficits? Now that the road to the Stanley Cup is much more wide open than it was before their last series started, they have fewer excuses not to answer yes.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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