The Philadelphia Flyers’ recent hot streak has separated them from the mediocre teams in the East and provided tangible reason for belief in this team.
For most of this season, the possibility of a Philadelphia Flyers playoff performance was more of an abstract, mostly mathematical possibility. They started the season poorly, and then morosely muddled along for a few months. Indeed, it was a strange time to be a Flyers fan, as most of the fan base was resigned to the idea of writing off this season.
It was mostly a quirk of the NHL points system giving loser points that the Flyers remained in sight of a playoff spot. The total number of points they needed to make up always appeared surmountable, but the number of teams between the Flyers and the wild card playoff slots was a more formidable obstacle.
A more serious look at the numbers have long pegged the Flyers’ chances of attaining a playoff spot hovering around 30%. A string of positive or negative might temporarily change that number, but their chances would inevitably orbit that landmark. Eventually, time would change that number one way or another.
Recent weeks have seen several teams in the East blow a tire in their race to the playoffs. Surprising teams like the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes ran out of steam, while disappointments like the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators folded. The Flyers were facing the same inflection point heading heading into a home-stand near the end of February.
Jakub Voracek took a sober look at the situation.
“This is going to define whether we’re going to make the playoffs or not,” winger Jake Voracek said. “When I look at the big picture — which I don’t like to do very often — we have to make at least 10 points out of this homestand.”
It was a tall order. It would require the Flyers to play their best hockey of the season, and do so without Michael Del Zotto, who had emerged as their number one defenseman this season.
Then something amazing happened. The Flyers’ talk of consistency, which they’ve been targeting all year, finally starting to show through. Even better, different lines were stepping up each night as the team found a way to win. The team began to feel different, as if between new coach Dave Hakstol, lineup infusions like Shayne Gostisbehere, and improvement from Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, they had turned the page from the Philadelphia Flyers of the Craig Berube era. Even when established star Voracek himself went down with an injury, the team didn’t miss a beat.
The Flyers went on to 5-0-1 record on the key homestand, tallying exactly 10 points. This momentum carried over after the homestand as well, as the Flyers picked up 5 points on the road in games against Tampa Bay, Florida, and Chicago.
All this hard work led to the Flyers finding themselves in a novel position: a playoff spot. After the Chicago win on Wednesday, the Flyers could look at the standings and see themselves ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for the 8th playoff spot, and only one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and the 7th spot.
The Flyers’ work is hardly done. Their lofty heights of being in playoff position lasted only one day, as wins by the Penguins and Red Wings moved the Flyers back to the outside looking in. The Flyers have games in hand, but those only mean something if they get a result.
To make the playoffs, the Flyers will have turn what is their current hot streak and make it into a sustained level of excellence. Any team can get hot every now and again, but good teams do it more frequently and for longer durations. It’s time for the 2015-16 Flyers to find out which of those teams they are, but now they’ve given the fans and themselves reason to believe.