After digging themselves into a significant hole early on this season, the Philadelphia Flyers found a way to get themselves back in the playoff conversation thanks to an outstanding last few weeks.
Thanks to some steady goaltending from Carter Hart and a more aggressive approach overall, the Flyers were able to rattle off 12 victories in 14 games between Jan. 14 – Feb. 17. That’s very impressive. But last night’s loss to Montreal combined with Carolina’s win over the Florida Panthers was a serious blow to their chances of playing meaningful games in the spring.
If general manager Chuck Fletcher was using this final week before the trade deadline to decide whether or not he’d hold on to Wayne Simmonds, he got his answer.
Philadelphia dropped a 5-2 decision to the first-place Lightning, who were playing their second game in two nights when they went head-to-head against the Flyers. But anytime should be able to stomach a loss to Tampa Bay. Thursday’s no-show in Montreal, however, is a different story.
From the start of the game to the very end, they were dominated by a quicker, hungrier and better Canadiens team. The Habs aren’t one of the elite teams in the conference, but they went into last night’s game sitting in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Still, the Flyers couldn’t afford to drop those two points if they wanted to stay in the hunt.
For the second game in a row, Hart was pulled after playing just 10 minutes. This time, he got the hook after allowing a goal to Brendan Gallagher from a horrendous angle.
“We’re not in the position we’re in without him,” James van Riemsdyk said of Hart, per Philly.com. “He’s come in and does a tremendous job. There are games like that when there are going to be tough bounces. Again, he has nothing to hang his head on. He’s been unbelievable since he got here.”
So going into Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia finds themselves eight points behind their state rivals, who are in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. A win at Lincoln Financial Field would bring them to within six points, but they’d still have Carolina and Columbus ahead of them.
Given the position they’re in, they have to absolutely unload Simmonds before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. Holding on to him and losing him for nothing at the end of the year isn’t an option. Although it’s hard not to blame the players for the way they played on Thursday night, they deserve credit for not giving up on the season when they easily could have done so in December, January and February.
For now though, it looks like they’ll have to start looking toward next season.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.