By Ryan Waterman
It wasn't long ago that the idea of the Philadelphia Flyers making the postseason was nothing more than a pipe dream. Flashing back to their final game of 2017, the Flyers sat a 16-14-8, a mark that made the playoffs seem almost impossible. However, a masterful 26-12-6 performance in 2018 secured them a spot. It didn't come easy, though, as the Flyers at one point were the lead dog in the Metropolitan Division, perhaps a hollow statement, given that the rest of the division were playing below their level of expectation. This essential gave the Flyers faithful a false sense of hope, as they began to believe that this team could actually make a run. Those hopes, for some, were shattered when the Flyers mediocre March performance left them with a seven-game date with cross-state rival, and two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Game One was a sick punch to the gut, as the Flyers were mortified in enemy territory to the tune of a 7-0 thrashing. They were outplayed, outcoached, and the atmosphere seemingly rattled the majority of the team. Once again, they took the ice at PPG Paints Arena, but the narrative was much different in Game Two. Philly managed to weather the storm, draw first blood, and keep their foot on the throat of the Pens. It looked as though the Orange and Black had all of the momentum heading back home to Philadelphia, in front of what was sure to be a blood-thirsty crowd. The latter end of that statement was true, but the former couldn't have been anymore wrong. Over the course of Games Three & Four, the Flyers put forth a pair of embarrassing efforts, getting outscored 10-1. If you're to ask this writer, their problem was simple -- the team never showed up, as they relied on the crowd to carry them to victory, as they already had their eyes set up shutting this series down in Pittsburgh.
While the series can be shutdown in the 'Burgh tonight, it's the battle-tested, playoff-experienced, grizzled Pens that have the chance to put the death blow in the season of Dave Hakstol's team. For the first time this series, the Flyers are facing a mentality that may actually be their new best friend -- one game at a time. That's right, the Flyers now are forced to take this series one game at a time. No longer can they look ahead to the next night, or carry around the belief that "we'll get 'em next game." Tonight's simply about "living to fight another day."
For the majority of this series, it's been the Young Lions' opportunity to shine. Travis Konecny, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier, and most recently, Nolan Patrick have all take the proverbial ball, and run with it. Facing a fair level of uncertainty for the first time in their young careers, it's time for the veterans to show up, and take the kids under their wings. MVP candidate Claude Giroux has been virtually non-existent this series, as has Jake Voracek. Wayne Simmonds, who was once a postseason hero, has seemingly disappeared from the ice, sans his impressive shot on Sidney Crosby back in Game Four. It's time for this team to face the reality that if their veteran leadership doesn't begin to show some level of production, they stand virtually no chance. I say virtually no chance, because the offense isn't the only aspect of this team that can win them this series.
This past offseason, the Flyers made a low-risk move in signing veteran goaltender Brian Elliot. The 33-year-old Ontario-native has never been able to establish himself as a workhorse number-one goalie, but has still put together elite production. His time with the St Louis Blues is what truly put him on the map, as he put together a 104-46-16 record with a 2.01 GAA in five seasons, including a pair of seasons with a GAA under 2.00. Hakstol and Co. expected stellar production from Elliott, and he didn't necessarily disappoint. A stat line of 23-11-7 with a 2.66 GAA definitely qualifies as stellar, but missing nearly two months of the season put a massive asterik next to his stat line. His return between the pipes was supposed to signify somewhat of a stable presence in net. Instead, Elliott's allowed 14 goals on 97 shots, for a 4.75 GAA. He's been pulled twice, once for midseason-acquisition Petr Mrazek, and most recently for Michal Neuvirth, who also returned from injury that derailed his season. Having allowed 18 goals this series, it's clear that the Flyers goaltending has been a massive issue. Elliott's clearly shown that he's not the answer, but it's fair to ask if any are? For the Flyer's sake, they need one of the three to become the answer -- otherwise, they're fighting an uphill battle against elimination.
Could tonight be the end for the Philadelphia Flyers season? Absolutely, it could. Down two games, entering enemy territory? Yeah, that's a recipe for the end. Was Game Two simply a mirage, or did the Flyers figure out a way to answer the Pittsburgh Puzzle, possibly sending this series back to Philadelphia? Those questions are still hours away from being answered, but one thing is for certain. If the Flyers want any chance of survival, they need to take it "one game at a time," and focus on tonight's outing.