How the Philadelphia Flyers Stack Up with Their Most Likely Playoff Opponents

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMarch 20, 2014

How the Philadelphia Flyers Stack Up with Their Most Likely Playoff Opponents

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are in a tight playoff race.
    The Philadelphia Flyers are in a tight playoff race.Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in the thick of a very tight playoff race in the Metropolitan Division as the NHL season enters its final weeks.

    Frank Seravalli of The Philadelphia Daily News cited statistics from that indicated the Flyers had an 89.6 percent chance of reaching the playoffs after their overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week.

    It is unlikely the Flyers can catch the Pittsburgh Penguins and win the division. That means if they qualify for the postseason, the Flyers will either be in the 2 vs. 3 matchup in the Metropolitan Division playoffs or earn one of the wild-card spots and face one of the two division winners in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    According to the same website, the Flyers most likely first-round opponents would be the Columbus Blue Jackets (38.1 percent likely), the New York Rangers (21.4 percent likely), the Boston Bruins (10.4 percent chance) or the Penguins (6.7 percent likely).

    Here is an early look at how the Flyers match up with each of their four most likely playoff opponents. They are listed in order of probability. Feel free to comment on any of these teams and add any of your own analysis. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Flyers and Penguins are familiar playoff foes.
    The Flyers and Penguins are familiar playoff foes.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Record vs. Pittsburgh : 3-1-0   In Philadelphia: 1-1-0  In Pittsburgh: 2-0-0

    Goals Scored/Allowed: 11-8

    Flyers Power Play: 5-of-13

    Penguins Power Play: 1-of-17

    1 Game Left: April 12 at Pittsburgh 

    The Penguins would provide the Flyers with the most wide-open playoff series of the four most likely opponents.

    Pittsburgh's biggest issue come playoff time will be its goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled in each of the last two playoff campaigns and the result has been a disappointing spring for the Penguins and their fans.

    The Pens and Flyers played a high-scoring series in 2012 and the potential is there for another barn burner. Despite their injuries, the Penguins still feature Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the most talented duo at center in the NHL.

    The health of James Neal, Kris Letang and Paul Martin have hurt the Penguins, and unless those players return to the lineup, they will not be at full strength.

    Pittsburgh would offer the Flyers the closest to a regular-season style of play in the opening round of the playoffs, and they would probably be the least physical opponent out of the four.

    Wayne Simmonds leads all Flyers with six points so far against Pittsburgh, followed by Claude Giroux with five. Crosby, Malkin and Jussi Jokinen each have three points to lead the Penguins.

    The Flyers have won three of four games from the Penguins so far this year and are capable of pulling the upset off, especially if the Penguins struggle on defense and/or in goal.

3. Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins may pose the biggest challenge for the Flyers.
    The Bruins may pose the biggest challenge for the Flyers.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Record vs. Boston : 0-1-0 In Philadelphia: 0-1-0 In Boston: 0-0-0

    Goals Scored/Allowed: 1-6

    Flyers Power Play: 1-of-3

    Bruins Power Play: 3-of-5

    2 Games Left: March 30 at Philadelphia; April 5 at Boston

    The Boston Bruins would be the most formidable first-round opponent the Flyers could face.

    Boston is playing its best hockey of the year right now and is arguably the hottest team in the league.

    The Bruins win with experience, depth, size and skill. Tuukka Rask is an experienced goalie who is more than capable of getting hot and stealing a game or even a series.

    Coach Claude Julien can roll four lines and each of them are capable of scoring or playing physically. Nine Bruins have already scored at least 10 goals this season and more may follow.

    On defense, Zdeno Chara is still the leader of the team, but there is a lot of young talent including the talented Torey Krug, who is capable of moving the puck well.

    The Flyers biggest questions are on defense and the Bruins size and skill make Philadelphia vulnerable in this matchup. It would be very difficult for Craig Berube or any coach to match lines with Boston over the course of a playoff series.

    The size and skill of the Bruins' defense would also be able to slow the Flyers' biggest strength, their skilled forwards.

    Jarome Iginla leads the Bruins with four points against Philadelphia, followed by David Krejci with three. Jakub Voracek, Kimmo Timonen and Giroux are the only three Flyers with a point against Boston so far.

    Overall, the Flyers want to avoid meeting the Bruins for as long as possible.

2. New York Rangers

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    The Rangers and Flyers have plenty of bad blood between them.
    The Rangers and Flyers have plenty of bad blood between them.Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Record vs. NY Rangers : 2-1-0 In Philadelphia: 2-0-0 In New York: 0-1-0

    Goals Scored/Allowed: 7-7

    Flyers Power Play: 2-of-11

    Rangers Power Play: 2-of-10

    1 Game Left: March 26 at New York Rangers

    The Rangers are a team in transition. They switched coaches from the defensive-minded John Tortorella to the more offensive-minded Alain Vigneault. Like the Flyers, the Rangers got off to a slow start before showing improvement later in the season.

    The addition of Martin St. Louis helps make this more of a Vigneault team, but he has yet to become comfortable in his new surroundings.

    The team's biggest strength is in goal where Henrik Lundqvist remains one of the league's best, although he's been more inconsistent this season than in past years. If Lundqvist is not at the top of his game, the Rangers could be in trouble.

    Up front, the team needs more consistent offense. When Rick Nash is hot, he's as dominant as any power forward in the game, but he only seems to get hot in spurts now. The Rangers have some speedy wingers like Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, but few of them are consistent enough to be go-to goal scorers.

    On defense, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal are the big three and would be faced with the difficult task of slowing down the Flyers' top forwards.

    Matt Read has three points to lead all Flyers against New York, while Chris Kreider leads all Rangers with four points against Philadelphia.

    The Rangers and Flyers are very evenly matched with the Rangers enjoying an edge in goal and on defense, while the Flyers have more depth and talent up front.

1. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    A match-up with the Blue Jackets would mean facing Sergei Bobrovsky.
    A match-up with the Blue Jackets would mean facing Sergei Bobrovsky.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Record vs. Columbus : 1-2-0 In Philadelphia: 1-0-0 In Columbus: 0-2-0

    Goals Scored/Allowed: 10-15

    Flyers Power Play: 1-of-15

    Blue Jackets Power Play: 2-of-13

    1 Game Left: April 3 at Philadelphia

    The Blue Jackets are a hard-working, blue-collar team that scores by committee and relies on the strong goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky to win close, low-scoring games.

    The most interesting aspect of a Blue Jackets-Flyers series would be having Bobrovsky face his former team.

    Columbus is underrated on defense. Players like Fedor Tyutin, Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson don't create a lot of headlines, but they are steady and play consistently, especially in their own zone.

    Only Ryan Johansen has more than 20 goals for Columbus, but seven Jackets have scored more than 10. The lack of a go-to scorer could hurt them in the postseason.

    The big matchup in a playoff series between the Flyers and Blue Jackets would be the Flyers high-octane offense against the Blue Jackets' stout defense and goaltending.

    The relative lack of playoff experience throughout the lineup could also hurt Columbus this spring.

    Giroux has five points against Columbus to lead the Flyers followed by Mark Streit and Voracek with four each. Brandon Dubinsky and Johnson lead Columbus with a goal and three points each against Philadelphia.

    The Blue Jackets will not be easy to beat, especially if Bobrovsky is on top of his game, but they are the best potential opponent the Flyers can face.