Remove the doubt and focus on the numbers. And, dear reader, offer pity for this sideways scribe, who will attempt to insert math into a hockey column.
Including Sunday's overtime loss, the Flyers' final 18 games on the schedule should be classified in two categories: the "Gravy" games and the "Carving" games. It's dangerous dividing these games up, especially at this time of year.
But it's a simple way to illustrate how the Flyers control their own destiny - a blueprint toward the Flyers' 17th playoff berth in the last 18 seasons. And it isn't at all far-fetched.
"My message for the guys is that it's still in our hands," Kimmo Timonen said. "Everybody knows the standings. I can't deny that I don't look at them. We control our destiny. And this week is huge."
The overall math is simple. The Flyers are almost guaranteed a playoff spot with an 11-4-2 run in their final 17 games. A mark of 11-5-1 will give them a strong chance. They have a prayer at 9-4-4 or 10-5-2. And they're toast at 9-5-3 or worse. This season, it's not necessarily about the Flyers' overall record, but their record in the games that matter most.
Of the Flyers' final 18 games (including Sunday's loss), the only two teams in the East they do not face are the two teams below them in the standings (Tampa Bay and Florida), which have little bearing on how this season plays out, anyway.
Barring any epic collapses, the top six or seven seeds in the Eastern Conference are largely already set in stone - even with a month left in the season. The nine games against those teams - Pittsburgh, Montreal, Winnipeg, Boston, Toronto and Ottawa - go in the "Gravy" category. Essentially, any points earned against those teams are a bonus:
THE GRAVY TRAIN
1. Pittsburgh: away 3/24 (2-1 OTL)
2. Montreal: home 4/3, away 4/15
3. Winnipeg: away 4/6
4. Boston: home 3/30, home 4/23
5. Ottawa: home 4/11, away 4/27
6. Toronto: away 4/4
Since that leaves the Flyers among seven teams battling for the final two playoff positions, their intent and focus should be very specific. Beat those teams consistently, and the Flyers won't have to ask for help. Each contest is a four-point swing.
Floundering in these other nine games will gut the Flyers' season:
7. New Jersey (37 points): home 4/18. (Flyers have two games in hand.)
8. N.Y. Rangers (33 points): home 3/26, home 4/16. (Flyers and Rangers have played same number of games.)
9. Carolina (32 points): away 4/20. (Flyers have played one more game.)
10. Washington (31 points): home 3/31. (Flyers have one game in hand.)
11. N.Y. Islanders (31 points): home 3/28, away 4/9, home 4/25. (Flyers have one game in hand.)
12. Buffalo (30 points): away 4/13. (Flyers have one game in hand.)
13. Philadelphia (28 points)
Wins against the six teams ahead of them - all beatable - will alleviate pressure in games against the best teams in the conference. A 6-3 or 7-2 run against the "Carvers" allows for 4-4-1 mediocrity against the "Gravy," hence Sunday's 0-0-1 start.
There are no excuses. Six of those nine "must-win" games are at home, where the Flyers have a 9-4-1 record, as opposed to 4-12-1 on the road. They're relatively healthy (minus Danny Briere), and there is enough rest accounted for on the schedule.
Overtime games, which guarantee a three-point swing, should be avoided at all costs against these teams. Even if that might mean getting crazy near the end of regulation in some games.
We will know quickly which way the Flyers are heading - this week, in fact, with consecutive games against the New York teams they are chasing. That point was echoed in the Flyers' locker room in meetings on Monday.
"Every game is important from here on out," Braydon Coburn said. "But especially with the Rangers being in front of us. They're a team we have to chase down. Everybody in our dressing room knows the position we are in right now."
Briere out indefinitely
The Flyers announced Danny Briere, who missed Sunday's game, will be out indefinitely with a concussion. It's Briere's second concussion in as many seasons - and the Flyers' first diagnosed brain trauma of the season. Briere, 35, missed six games last season with a concussion.
Briere was hurt on Saturday when crashing into the boards in practice. He did not accompany the team to Pittsburgh. Tye McGinn was recalled from Adirondack and will replace Briere on the 23-man roster.
Paul Holmgren also announced defenseman Nick Grossmann is "day-to-day" with an "upper-body" injury. Grossmann was also hurt in practice Friday. He is a possibility to play Tuesday against the Rangers.
The Flyers will honor Kimmo Timonen before Tuesday's game. He played in his 1,000th NHL game last Monday in Tampa Bay . . . The Flyers have interest in Western Michigan University undrafted free-agent defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who is expected to begin poring over NHL offers on Tuesday in Toronto. Detroit, Tampa Bay and St. Louis are considered the front-runners for DeKeyser's services, which the Flyers have been drooling over for two-plus seasons.
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