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Philadelphia Flyers' Keys to Sneaking into the Playoffs

Dan FremuthContributor IIIOctober 11, 2016

Philadelphia Flyers' Keys to Sneaking into the Playoffs

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are on the outside looking in with just nine regular-season games remaining following Tuesday's action.

    The Orange and Black are presently five points back of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference following their 4-1 setback to the New York Islanders. What's worse, there are three other teams currently standing between Philly and the East's final playoff berth.

    But there's still hope in the City of Brotherly Love as the Flyers rebounded from a four-game losing skid in late March by claiming four of their last six contests overall, including signature victories over Eastern Conference powers Boston and Montreal.

    The math is still feasible but Philadelphia will need a number of things to go its way if the Flyers hope to play beyond April.

    Here are five keys to Philly finding a way to sneak into the playoffs.

Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux has the tools and offensive abilities to take over a game. The entire hockey universe took note of that during last year's postseason.

    If the Philadelphia captain is able to rediscover that dynamic form, he and the Flyers would become awfully dangerous as the season winds to a close.

    To date, Giroux has been good but not great.

    He's second among all Flyers in scoring but has lacked that take-a-game-over dynamic for much of the year.

    It should come as no surprise that Giroux's best stretch of the season (nine points in six games) coincided with Philadelphia's four victories over a six-game span.

    As Giroux goes, the Flyers go.

    It will be absolutely imperative for him to be the team's best player the rest of the way if Philadelphia is to find its way into the postseason.

Defensive Durability

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    It's a dangerous time to be a defenseman for the Flyers.

    Andrej Meszaros has played in just 11 games this season and is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

    Meanwhile, Nicklas Grossmann has missed nine straight outings with a concussion.

    Finally, Braydon Coburn, the longest tenured current Flyer, has missed six straight games and is out indefinitely with a left shoulder separation.

    With that, Philadelphia has been forced to use depth defensemen like Bruno Gervais and Kent Huskins on a regular basis. Those aren't exactly names that strike fear into the heart of opposing offenses.

    There isn't much optimism surrounding the return of either Meszaros or Coburn, which means the Flyers are seemingly stuck on defense.

    They can ill afford to suffer any more injuries or setbacks on the back end as this is already a team simply struggling to suit up the appropriate number of bodies on defense.

Goaltending

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    Philadelphia's goaltending has actually been OK for much of the season.

    But OK doesn't get teams to the playoffs.

    If the Flyers are to secure one of the final postseason berths in the East, their goaltending will need to be great the rest of the way.

    Starter Ilya Bryzgalov has been his usual enigmatic self this season but has given his team a chance to win on most nights. His 2.88 goals-against average is good for a team as weak defensively as Philly is, while his .896 save percentage isn't quite the 90 percent most coaches are looking for on a given night but it's close enough.

    As they do every season, though, the Flyers still have concerns in goal. 

    Bryzgalov's numbers to date are fine but not exceptional and certainly not good enough to propel a team riddled with defensive injuries into the playoffs. 

    And the organization's confidence in its mercurial starter certainly has to be called into question after recently acquired Steve Mason was given the nod in Tuesday's uber-critical matchup with the Islanders.

    If Philadelphia is to make a run, exceptional goaltending will have to be a part of it.

Special Teams

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    One of the great equalizers in the game of hockey can be special teams.

    A razor-sharp power play can salvage even the most laboring of offenses while a tenacious penalty kill can stall even the most vicious offensive attack.

    For the Flyers, the special teams have actually been one of the main reasons this team is even still in contention.

    The power play is currently ranked second in the league at just a shade over 23 percent on the year and has produced the third-most man-advantage markers (33) in the NHL.  What's more, 11 of Philly's 17 wins this season have come when the team has generated a power-play conversion.

    On the other end, the penalty kill, which was absolutely abysmal in January, has found its footing and is now sixth in the league at 84.7 percent. Despite the third-most short-handed situations (150), the Flyers have surrendered just 23 power-play goals against and have allowed zero man-advantage markers in 22 of 39 games to date.

    Special teams have given this team life so far. It will have to continue to be a major piece of the winning puzzle if the Flyers are to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference.

Must Win Must-Win Games

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    Tuesday's loss to the Islanders set the Flyers five points back of the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East and makes this key that much more important the rest of the way.

    Of Philly's nine remaining games, six are against teams all vying for the final playoff spots in the conference.

    In all reality, the Flyers must win all six of those head-to-head meetings if they are to have any hope of playing into May.

    The final nine-game stretch begins and ends with showdowns against the sixth-place Ottawa Senators, who are presently seven points ahead of Philadelphia.

    The Flyers also have critical showdowns in Buffalo (April 13) and home against the Rangers (April 16)—both teams, like Philadelphia, presently on the outside looking in.

    Throw in a couple of home contests with New Jersey (April 18) and the Islanders (April 25) and the road becomes an awfully tricky one for the Orange and Black to close the season.

    All of the games referenced above are four-point swings on any given night.

    Find a way to win in regulation and you just gained some serious ground.

    See that opportunity slip through the cracks (as it did Tuesday on Long Island) and an uphill climb just became a lot steeper.

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