The Philadelphia Flyers are returning home for two games in Philadelphia after a three-game long trip along the California coast.
The Flyers faced the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks and came back with a 2-1-0 record.
This was an important trip for the Flyers, as all three teams sit atop their division out west. Coming away with four points out of a possible six kept the Flyers tied for third in the Metropolitan division.
Since the Flyers are currently tied for third with the Columbus Blue Jackets, something most hockey fans thought they would never hear, each game is becoming more and more crucial.
In the Metropolitan, the Pittsburgh Penguins have run away with first place, and no one is going to catch them. The New York Islanders are in last place, an insurmountable 30 points out of first. But only four points separate second through seventh place.
No other race in the National Hockey League is as close. This only means one thing: there are going to be fireworks come April.
Every team in the division, with the exception of the Penguins and Islanders, barring a miracle that is, will be fighting for second and third place.
If teams aren’t lucky enough to finish in one of those two positions, they will be fighting for one of two coveted wild card spots. But you will then have to add in a mix of other teams from the Atlantic division, namely the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
Compared to the teams in the Metro, Montreal would sit in second place with 66 points, Detroit has as many points as Columbus and Philadelphia with 62, and Ottawa has 59, the same amount as the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils.
These facts make the four points in California all the more important, especially facing the much tougher Western Conference.
Things looked bleak after the Flyers dropped the first game, 5-3 in favor of the Ducks. They still had two games two go before coming home, and momentum seemed nonexistent.
They fought back against the Kings, however, shutting them out 2-0. This was Steve Mason’s third shutout of the season, and second in three games. It’s still a bit early to say Mason is back to the dominant form he showed earlier in the season, but the past few games have provided a promising outlook for fans.
Wayne Simmonds notched his 100th NHL goal in that game as well, and how appropriate it would be against his former team.
Simmonds has been one of the NHL’s top scorers since mid-December, tallying 25 points in 24 games. Teammate Kimmo Timonen was out against both L.A. and San Jose, so Simmonds was given the vacant A to wear on his sweater. Few players have deserved it more than he has this season.
San Jose has been one of the top offensive teams in the NHL recently, so going into the Shark Tank was a huge challenge for a struggling Flyer’s defense. Philadelphia hadn’t beaten San Jose since Dec. 12, 2000, a 13-game winless streak.
After allowing two first period goals to the 21-year-old Boston University graduate Matthew Nieto, and scoring one of their own, the Flyers seemed to be forcing it a bit on both ends of the ice.
After a San Jose powerplay was killed at the start of the third period, Matt Read, Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl each scored in a span of 2:45 to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
A late Jakub Voracek goal, which broke a 7-game goalless streak, sealed the deal and sent the Flyers back to Philadelphia with two more points.
Philadelphia will face the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames at home before the Olympic break. Four points would certainly be a confidence booster for a team in the midst of the tightest race in the NHL.
HartnellDown Tracker: Scott currently sits at 197 for the season.