Tomorrow night, a win would be massive for the Detroit Red Wings, who are currently in the race for their 25th consecutive playoff berth. In the last few games left in the season, their rivals who are also competing for one the last wildcard spots, the Philadelphia Flyers will do their best to stop that from happening.
Alongside the Red Wings, the Flyers will also play their biggest game of the season. Their last few look daunting, as on Saturday they have to beat the almost unbeatable Pittsburgh Penguins and then on Sunday, they face the New York Islanders in the last game of the season, which could come down to the last points which get them in or keep them out of the postseason.
Detroit will play hosts for the last time this regular season against one of the teams they are closest to in the playoff race. The Wings have lost the first two meetings this season against the Flyers, but they seem confident that they can win this key game as they have been on a more winning streak, and it will lift them above the third time around.
“We’ve been playing really good the last several games, so just go out there and try and get the job done,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said Tuesday. “We’ve just got to be smart with the puck and not turn it over. It’s imperative we get off to a good start, and I think we won’t have an issue doing that.”
The Flyers in the meantime have what seems like an easier game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. While the Flyers, Red Wings and Islanders fight for a playoff spot, the Maple Leafs are are only interested in get a bottom-two finish so they can get the best chances for the top draft pick at the 2016 NHL draft. They Leafs have nothing to lose and they could play spoiler.
But either in the Wings or Flyers, there should be no lack of motivation to win. In a fierce battle for positioning, the Red Wings and Flyers will almost be fighting to the last man standing to see who wins that last berth. The game is even more important since the Wings have a tough schedule too, going into Boston on Thursday to play a Bruins team who is also within range of the same wildcard spot the Wings and Flyers are scrapping for.
The Red Wings will have to play smart if they want to get the two necessary points: “We want to play a complete 60 minutes, we want to be on our toes and get them on their heels,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “When momentum goes against us, we need to make sure we recapture it as quick as possible. Should be a great game. We’re excited for it.
“Let’s enjoy this. Let’s enjoy the great opportunity we have ahead of us.”
It will be a great game, and it will be even harder to predict who wins, since no once can tell who wants it more.
It’s easy though to see which games Philadelphia are more worries about. The game on Thursday versus Toronto, especially after the Red Wings game, could be forgettable leading up to it and thus misleading. The Flyers don’t need to win in Detroit and then go lose another two to Toronto to their classic “trap” game.
On the possible dangers they could face, Red Wings’ Gustav Nyquist said to media, “They’re a tough team to play. They are a physical team but at the same time they can skate well, too. They have some dangerous players that can make you pay for turnovers, as well. So we’ve just got to keep the same focus of not turning the puck over. That’s been the biggest problem in games we’ve lost.”
Flyers’ don’t have a good past with lowly opponents and it’s what has been known to be called ‘a trap game’ which is a match up against a weaker opponent that the “superior” team sees as an easy win. But the opposite turns out to be true, and the bigger the ego the greater the fall. In a playoff push, that’s a dangerous mistake to make.
Looking at the Flyers and Maple Leafs records, plus their big picture stories, this game is a classic trap. That doesn’t bode well for Philly who has struggled against lesser opponents all season.
The issue though isn’t as bad as it was last year, where the team was 9-1-4 against playoff teams, but 0-6-3 against teams looking into the postseason from the outside, which was during a stretch in late March, but things haven’t improved that much this year.
If you look at the Flyers’ results in March this year and their losses to the Edmonton Oilers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes it becomes clear Toronto could be added to that list. The only other two losses were to the Penguins and the Florida Panthers, who are both in playoff contention and easier to accept for Flyers fans, but it’s a disturbing trend.
If we dig back even further this season, one of the worst losses for the Flyers came in January this year against the very same Maple Leafs where Philly got outplayed badly and couldn’t even gain a point, leaving Leaf Matt Hunwick the opportunity to scored with seven seconds left in regulation and win the game.
That could happen again, but before that they better sort out the Red Wings or that game might not even matter.
Our Pick: Flyers over Red Wings, 4-1