The last time the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers met in an NBC Game of the Week, the Flyers were smothered 7-0 in a game the Rangers clearly needed more than Philly. To at least some extent, it seemed like the Rangers took advantage of a Flyers team that didn’t have much on the line.
There was some concern that the April 3rd NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) would follow a similar script, but the Washington Capitals’ meteoric rise to the top spot in the East should give Philadelphia much more motivation. Sure, the Rangers still have more on the line since they are fighting for their playoff lives (more on that in the next post), but at least Philly has a delicious, dangling carrot to drive them to fight harder in this one.
The simplest way to look at the two-horse race for the East’s top seed is to point out that the Capitals have one more point, but the Flyers have one game in hand. A slightly deeper take would point out that Philly currently owns the non-shootout wins tiebreaker by one victory (43-42).
While that’s fine and dandy, those details only say so much regarding which team will prevail. Let’s take a look at both teams’ schedules and try to handicap the race for home ice advantage in the East.
Philadelphia’s remaining schedule
Home vs. Rangers (Sunday), @ Ottawa (Tuesday), @ Buffalo (Friday) and Home vs. Islanders (Saturday).
Two home vs. two away games.
One set of back-to-back contests.
Two matches against playoff contenders (Rangers and Sabres), two against cellar dwellers.
Additional thoughts: The Flyers will get a nice breather between Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rangers and Tuesday night’s contest against the Senators. They’ll get another nice break between that Ottawa contest and their back-to-back games, so they’re in a decent position to mop up points. It would certainly help their chances if the Senators and Islanders are in tank mode, rather than relishing the role of being spoilers, though. (The Islanders might resist the urge to tank since they’ll be going against their divisional rivals.)
Washington’s remaining schedule
Away vs. Toronto (Tuesday), home vs. Florida (Wednesday) and @ Florida (Saturday).
One home game vs. two away contests.
One set of back-to-back games.
One match against a playoff contender (Maple Leafs), two against the same cellar dweller (Panthers).
Additional thoughts: As slim as Toronto’s chances actually are, there’s a good chance they will go all-out in that Tuesday game against the Caps. Mix that hard working attitude with the game taking place in Toronto and it might be a tough draw for Washington. Luckily the Caps can beat up on the lowly Panthers, with a big break between the second half of a back-to-back on Wednesday and the final game of the season in Florida next Saturday.
Overall, it’s really tough to gauge which team will end up with the top seed. Washington has a great chance to win both games against Florida and the Flyers’ game in hand might be slightly neutralized by an extra game against contenders. That being said, Philly does hold a small (but potentially crucial) tiebreaker, meaning Washington might need to finish with one more point to take the top spot.
If you weigh recent trends heavily, then you might want to know that the Caps have been hotter than the Flyers. Washington is 7-2-1 in their last 10 while Philadelphia is a lethargic 4-3-3 in their most recent 10 games. Will this lead change be a wake-up call for the Broadstreet Bullies, or is it too late?
For the second year in a row, Philly’s playoff position might not be decided until the final game of the season. This time around, they’re feeling a lot more comfortable, though.
Either way, these separate races give both the Rangers and Flyers a reason to care about Sunday’s game … making hockey fans the true winners.