If the NHL season ended today, the playoff seeds would look like this:
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Boston Bruins
- Washington Capitals
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Montreal Canadiens
- New York Rangers
- Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers would face the Sabres, with home-ice advantage.
Of course, these spots could change significantly with about a month still left in the season; the Carolina Hurricanes are currently only one point behind the Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs are five points behind.
Either of these two teams could find their way into the playoffs. Plus, these seeds could move around—especially with the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning still vying for the top spot in the Southeast Division.
For the sake of argument, I have included the Hurricanes and Sabres in the rankings of potential playoff opponents for the Flyers.
Here I rank the Flyers' biggest competition in the playoffs, with No. 9 being the team they should most want to face and No. 1 being the team they should least want to face.
The Carolina Hurricanes are only one point out of a playoff spot. With a month left on the NHL schedule, the Hurricanes could very well get into the playoffs.
The Hurricanes are only one point behind Buffalo and have two games left on their schedule against the Sabres. If the Hurricanes beat the Sabres in both games and maintain a good record for the rest of the season, they could take the Sabres' spot.
If this happens and they end up playing the Flyers, the Flyers should not be too concerned. The Flyers have won three of four in the season series against the Hurricanes.
They should be able to beat them in the playoffs as well. After all, the Hurricanes have failed to make the playoffs in two of the last three years.
The Buffalo Sabres are currently in the eighth spot in the playoff race. They are also one of the teams that the Flyers have lost to in their recent slump.
However, it seems that the loss can be attributed more to the Flyers' mistakes than to the Sabres' play. The Flyers lead the season series 2-1 over the Sabres.
The Flyers will travel to Buffalo for their penultimate game this season. That game will be a better judge of how the Flyers will fare against the Sabres.
Plus, the Flyers have more playoff experience. Buffalo has failed to reach the playoffs two out of the last three years. They made the playoffs last year, but lost to Boston in the first round.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently five points behind the Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes in their quest for a playoff spot.
Of their last 10 games, the Maple Leafs have won six. They picked up points in another three, as they went into OT. That is a pretty good roll that the Leafs are on. The players they picked up before the trade deadline seem to be working out well.
Additionally, one of those wins came against the Flyers.
However, the Flyers are winning the season series 2-1. The finale of their season series will come on Thursday. It will be interesting to see how the two teams play one another.
The Montreal Canadiens surprised everyone last year when they defeated the Washington Capitals and then the Pittsburgh Penguins—the two favorites in the East—to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Flyers eventually overpowered them, winning the series 4-1.
The Canadiens are a tough team to play, particularly at home in Montreal. Their team looks a little different this year with a different goaltender, as Jaroslav Halak is now in St. Louis.
Carey Price has been excellent for the Canadiens this year, although the Flyers have bested him in the regular season. The Flyers lead the season series against the Canadiens, 3-1.
The Flyers have history on their side. The Flyers have met Montreal in the playoffs twice in the past three years, beating them 4-1 in both series.
The Washington Capitals have struggled this year. They usually dominate the Southeast Division, as they did last year when they won the President's Cup by finishing the regular season atop the Eastern Conference.
However, this year they are competing with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Southeast Division. They have struggled with significant injuries as well. One of their best defensemen, Mike Green, is still recovering from a concussion. Who knows how his play will be affected when he gets back.
Additionally, power forward Eric Fehr has been sidelined with a shoulder injury—his status is unknown. After last night's game against the Lightning, the status of top center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Michal Neuvirth are unknown.
That could be devastating for the Caps. Neuvirth has been the starting goalie ever since Semyon Varlamov was injured. Backstrom is a part of Alexander Ovechkin's success, assisting him on the majority of his goals.
However, the Caps cannot be underestimated. They still have a very good chance of faring better in the playoffs than they have in previous years. The Flyers have a 2-1 lead over the Caps in the season series so far. It would be a good series, but one the Flyers may hope to avoid.
The New York Rangers eviscerated the Flyers the last time the two played, 7-0. The loss was the latest in the Flyers' recent slump. It should be a cause of concern for the Flyers, considering they are a division rival.
The Rangers are always tough competition, no matter which team is statistically better each season.
This would be a great playoff series, but a really tough one for the Flyers. They should hope to avoid the Rangers in the postseason—especially early on, as the Rangers would probably push a long series.
The Flyers have the lead in the season series, four games to one. However, the latest game was a blowout and the Rangers are on a roll. The Flyers will need to win the final game in the season series to keep their momentum against the Rangers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers have both been top teams in the East this year. They are also both currently in a slump.
Despite the Lightning's well-put-together team that has played extraordinarily this season, the Flyers have a better chance in this matchup. The Flyers are stronger defensively, plus they have playoff experience—something that shouldn't be discounted.
The Lightning have dominated the season series against the Flyers, winning three out of four. Two of those games were decided by only one goal, but the Bolts also defeated the Flyers in a shutout.
The series would not be impossible for the Flyers. However, it could be detrimental for the rest of the playoffs if they have to use up most of their tank against the Lightning.
In a typical season, the Flyers should want to avoid the Penguins in the playoffs. They don't have a great record against the Pens in playoff history. In the past three seasons, the Penguins and Flyers have faced each other twice. The Penguins won both series, 4-1 in 2008 and 4-2 in 2009.
However, they seem to have the Penguins' number this season, leading the season series 3-1 so far. Plus, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin possibly out for the season (Crosby the bigger possibility with the mysterious concussions), the Penguins don't have as good a chance of overcoming the Flyers in the playoffs.
Despite the absence of their two star players, the Penguins have maintained a high position in the conference. They are still a threat; underestimate them and beware.
The team is proving that they are not just Crosby and Malkin; they can win without them in the lineup.
Due to the historical playoff record, the Penguins are best avoided in the playoffs.
Last season, the Flyers bested the Bruins in one of the greatest comebacks in hockey—and really, in sports history. If the two meet in the playoffs again this year, the Bruins will be looking for revenge.
This year, Tim Thomas is arguably the hottest goaltender in the NHL. Plus, the Bruins really bolstered their team before the trade deadline with acquisitions such as Tomas Kaberle on the blue line.
Of all the teams on this list, the Bruins are one of two that the Flyers do not have a winning record against this season. They are 1-2 against them so far.
The Bruins and Flyers will play their season finale on March 27th in Philadelphia. It should be a good game and a good indication of what is to come in the playoffs. It could also be the determining factor of which team seals the top seed in the playoffs.