Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Flyers' Final Stretch

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers / Rich Graessle/GettyImages

Since the beginning of this season, the Flyers have played beyond expectations. Many hockey experts expected them to finish at the bottom of the division, let alone the conference. Several predicted them to be among the worst teams in the league and would earn a top lottery pick.

Instead, they have been near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings and have been firmly in third place for most of the season. Unlike the Eagles, they haven't suffered a late-season collapse (yet) even when things got rough with injuries and their goalie situation.

Currently, they are still holding onto a playoff spot. Right now, their biggest threat is coming from a surging Washington Capitals, and a hope that both Detroit and New Jersey can stay sluggish. If they can hold on, the Flyers should be able to hold onto a seventh or eighth spot in the playoffs. Granted, that would mean them facing a powerhouse like the Rangers, Hurricanes, Bruins, or Panthers, but hey, at least they've made it.

So with the season winding down, there are some reasons to be optimistic about their chances to make the postseason and, quite possibly, escape the first round. It's not as far-fetched as you think.

Help is on the Way

The Flyers took a hit at the wrong time. Just before the trade deadline, Jamie Drysdale got hurt. Nick Seeler got injured around the same time. Rasmus Ristolainen has been injured for most of the season. They also traded Sean Walker, who was arguably their best defender.

Seeler and Drysdale are skating again and could be hitting the ice soon. Ristolainen may not be far behind. The team has been relying on Ronnie Attard, Adam Ginning, and other young players to hold down the fort. They've done a decent job. With Seeler and Drysdale coming back, the defense can get back on its feet and resume being the dominant part of this team.

Goalie Growth

Sam Ersson has played in 43 games this season. That's a lot more than the dozen he played last year. You know, he's done well. His GAA is 2.75, his save percentage is .895 and he has three shutouts. Yes, he's probably being overworked, but the rookie has played well. He's kept this team in the playoff hunt all season.

The backups are a little sketchy. Cal Petersen has not played well, but even John Tortorella has said that that was probably due to being rusty most of the year. Felix Sandstrom has also struggled in net, but he has had to be thrown into situations that haven't been ideal; especially amid this recent "gauntlet stretch."

Despite these growing pains, you can see that Ersson is giving it his all. You can see the improvement in him. His confidence is building. I don't know if he is the goaltender of the future, but he is more than good enough to be one of them right now.

Also, in a massive turn of events, Ivan Fedotov is reportedly on his way from the KHL. If he can be half as good in the NHL as he was over in Russia, the Flyers and their fans will be in for a treat. And Ersson will be able to get some well needed rest.

Have You Seen These Guys?

So, the Flyers have had a rough stretch lately. They have just been through a ten-game stretch where they played the first-place Bruins and second-place Panthers twice each. They faced off against the Maple Leafs twice and the Lightning once, with both teams jockeying for third place. Philly also had to play the Metro Division-leading Rangers and Hurricanes. The only respite was a game against the basement-dwelling Sharks.

During that stretch, the Flyers won four games and took two games into overtime that they lost. Only in two games, a 4-1 loss to Florida and 6-2 drubbing by Toronto, did they get beat badly. Even in the 6-5 loss to Boston, they put up five goals on the Bruins and returned to beat them the following weekend. They are holding their own against the top dogs in the East and playing well, even in losses.

And moving on, the schedule gets lighter. Yes, they will face the Rangers again and the Caps too. Most of the other teams are not playoff-bound. As long as they don't play down to the level of their competition, they can build their confidence up to make a playoff run.

Barring any major injury-prone implosion, they are in a good spot. They are playing strong, smart hockey, even in losses. They are not lying down for anyone. They could be one of those dangerous teams that sneak into the playoffs and go on a tear. Don't laugh. Last year, Florida made the playoffs on the last day of the season. They were down 3-1 against Boston, won the next three games to take the series, and ran it to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. You never know, it could be Philly this year.