Few would label the 2014-2015 regular season a successful campaign for the Philadelphia Flyers. As it looks right now though, they will be in good company with a few teams that have either won the Stanley Cup or have been perennial contending and/or playoff teams since the 2004-2005 lockout.
The San Jose Sharks, a team that has been considered amongst the elite teams in the NHL for many years, have been eliminated for nearly a week now and last night, the 2013-2014 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings were denied the right to defend their title as they were dealt a 3-1 decision by the Calgary Flames who are now playoff bound themselves for the first time since 2009.
In the East, the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins may join the Flyers as well in starting the summer earlier than expected. The Bruins lost 4-2 to the Florida Panthers and are currently on the outside looking in as they sit in 9th place with 95 points and no longer control their own destiny. The Pittsburgh Penguins, in losing to the Ottawa Senators in overtime on Tuesday night, managed to stay just one point ahead of the surging Sens. Now, the Penguins sit a point back as Ottawa trounced a New York Rangers team which skated without Rick Nash, Marc Staal, and Mats Zuccarello last night by a score of 3-0.
The Penguins hold a game in hand over both Ottawa and Boston, but face a tough opponent in the New York Islanders who are playing for home-ice advantage tonight. The Penguins are also without a first-round draft choice in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (it belongs to the Edmonton Oilers) and if they miss the playoffs, it would have to be considered one of the worst collapses in professional sports.
Other teams’ failures certainly don’t justify or excuse another’s shortcomings, but it does put things in perspective: the NHL wanted parity and it absolutely has it now as there are two teams from the East and four teams from the West in the playoffs who didn’t make it last year. Despite my own personal distaste for the way the league has broken the playoff bracket into a divisional setup, the fact that the playoff picture seemed set a month ago and now has been completely turned on its head is exciting.
As a Flyers fan, the Penguins missing the playoffs would be just too good. It would be humorous and funny and hilarious on so many levels. The collapse, the fact that the Flyers played a large role in their demise, the having traded their first rounder in a real good draft to Edmonton for a guy who has done hardly anything positive for the team since coming over 41 games ago. As a hockey fan, I want Ottawa to make it for other reasons.
The Senators are a great story this year. They’re young and they’re talented and they have a goaltender who came out of nowhere in Andrew Hammond and has a ridiculous nickname to boot and this magical run would be one for the books. It’d be hard not to cheer for them in the playoffs as we all love an underdog. It’s something you’d see in movies. In the West, the Flames locking down a playoff spot is nearly as good a story as they end a five year drought and will hopefully recoup some of the money they spent repairing the Scotiabank Saddledome in 2013 when it was flooded.
That’s what’s wonderful about this sport: anything can happen. Teams are playing games 81 and 82 over the next three days and not everything has been set. That’s excellent for the game and for the league. The fact that teams that are not perennial competitors are in the running is also good for the game. The fact that the Western conference will have three Canadian teams in the playoffs this year is exciting. Winnipeg, who hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 1996 when the franchise was moved to Phoenix, is incredible. The New York Islanders are closing the Nassau Coliseum this year. Would there be a better ending for a team than raising the Cup one more time?
There is no shortage of great storylines as we look towards the playoffs. There is also great theatre yet to be witnessed in the final days of the season. It’s not nearly as much fun without the Orange and Black in the thick of things, but it’s still going to be one heck of a finish. The Flyers still have a role to play, though it’s more of a one-off cameo than even a supporting role, with one game left against the Ottawa Senators. With just one point, the Senators will clinch a playoff berth and earn the right to continue to pen their fairy tale for at least another four games.
While this season was far from an exciting or enjoyable one, what’s at stake on Saturday is why I have loved this game my entire life. It’s the best show on Earth and it only gets better in the spring. 12:30 PM on Saturday could be a deciding game for one team but could be a curtain call for both. Will the Flyers end their spoiler tour with another win against a playoff team or will they finally when it matters most? That’s the only question remaining this season and finding the answer on Saturday should be entertaining.