The Philadelphia Flyers could have gone into their regular season finale needing a victory to claim the Atlantic Division title. Instead, they’ll also need a bunch of help.
Though they might be doing some scoreboard watching at Nassau Coliseum, the Flyers face a must-win situation against the New York Islanders to have any shot at winning their third division crown in five seasons.
Following a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday, Philadelphia could have climbed into sole possession of first place with a road win Sunday over the New Jersey Devils. However, the momentum of beating the division leader a day earlier did not carry over as the Flyers lost 5-1 to a Devils team which has won 10 straight.
Those results from the weekend left the Rangers alone atop the Atlantic with 100 points, one more than Philadelphia and New Jersey. The Rangers will win the division if they defeat Ottawa on Tuesday, but if they lose—even if they get a point by forcing the game to overtime—that opens the door for the Flyers and Devils.
Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker over the Rangers, but does not have it against New Jersey. That means the Flyers not only must get a victory along with a loss by the Rangers to win the division, but they also would need the Devils to lose at Montreal on Tuesday.
The division winner will be the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, earning home-ice advantage for a first-round series that will be against the third-place team in the Atlantic. The second-place team will open as the No. 5 seed against Buffalo.
“We would like to finish first in our division, but after that it doesn’t really matter if you’re eighth, or seventh, or first,” Flyers center Petr Nedved said. “You start from scratch and it really matters how you play in the games after that.”
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock has yet to announce his starting goaltender for the postseason, though Robert Esche will start this game. Esche was pulled for Antero Niittymaki early in the second period Sunday after allowing three goals to the Devils. He sat out with the flu on Saturday while Niittymaki made 26 saves to beat the Rangers.
Esche had won four of five starts, a stretch during which he allowed 11 goals, before losing at New Jersey in each of his last two appearances.
“Goaltending wins championships,” Esche said. “Goalies can correct mistakes. I’ll take all the pressure. I feel confident. I have my game where I want it to be.”
Maybe of greater concern to Flyers fans than the goaltending situation is the status of Peter Forsberg, who has missed five of the last six games with a groin problem that has plagued him all season. It will not be decided until after the morning skate Tuesday if Forsberg, whose 75 points are second on the team, will play in this contest.
Philadelphia is 34-16-9 with Forsberg in the lineup this season, compared to 10-10-2 when he isn’t.
“It’s a big game on Tuesday, so I’d like to play,” the former NHL MVP said. “If there’s a chance to play, I’ll play.”
The Flyers are facing an Islanders team that has long been eliminated from postseason contention for the first time in four seasons.
No team in the East has scored fewer goals (229) than the Isles, who had won three of four before losing 6-1 to Pittsburgh on Monday.
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