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March 31, 2017

Breaking down the Flyers' playoff chances heading into final five games of season

Flyers NHL

To say that the Flyers are running out of time to make a playoff run would be the glass-half-full way of looking at it. 

A few weeks ago, sure. But more realistically, the Flyers, who are currently six points behind the Boston Bruins with five games left to play, have reached the point at which the sand in the top of the hourglass suddenly starts disappearing much more rapidly – and if you blink, the last few grains of sand will have already drop quietly into place. 

They're not mathematically eliminated – after all, they stormed out of nowhere last March to claim a wild card spot – but they need a lot to happen between now and when the regular season concludes next Sunday.

The glass-half-empty person will tell you that doesn't matter. That they've been out of the running for some time now. That their 6-3 win over the Islanders, which featured five first-period goals, didn't actually mean anything – aside from some late-season stat padding.

Unfortunately for Flyers fans, the pessimists claimed the bigger victory on Thursday night. While the Orange and Black were taking care of business in South Philly, the team they're chasing, the Bruins, also picked up two points of their own, thanks to a 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars.

And this time, the numbers back it up.

According to, the Flyers' chances of making the playoffs actually dropped 0.09 percent (to 0.1 percent) despite their win.

Now, with just a handful of games remaining, the Flyers (82 points) will not only need to gain seven* points on the Bruins (88), they'll also need to hold off the Isles (82) and pass Carolina (84) and Tampa Bay (85). The Lighting and Hurricanes both won on Thursday night to keep pace in the Eastern Conference wild-card race, and all three of the teams still in the hunt have a game in hand over the Flyers and Bruins.

*Boston (41-30-6) is guaranteed the first tiebreaker (wins in regulation and overtime, excluding shootout) over the Flyers (37-32-8); it's currently 39-30.

The recent success of those playoff hopefuls has made it difficult for the Flyers to gain ground despite three straight wins. But after their latest victory, when asked if he was peaking at the out-of-town scoreboard during stoppages in play, winning goalie Steve Mason said something you're going to hear quite a bit in the next few days.

“No," Mason replied. "[We are] too busy focusing on what we have to do.”

"I don’t know what happened in tonight’s scores," he added, unaware that Boston, Tampa and Carolina had each picked a pair of points. "We won. We did our part. We have a game here against Jersey I believe that always are difficult games. So we have to get ready for that.”

Wayne Simmonds, who picked up his 30th goal of the season in painful fashion and, along with Dale Wiese, was one of two Flyers to record a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist and a fight) in the first period, put the blame for his team's current situation precisely where it belongs.

"No, we did this to ourselves," Simmonds told reporters when asked if it hurts to find out that Boston also won. "So we’re just trying to win every single game and get some help. We’re just going to continue to go at it and continue to play strong hockey."

As for that ricochet first-period goal that hit his knee, then an Islanders defender, and still had enough speed to bounce into the back of the net, Simmonds brushed it off after the game when asked if it was his most painful goal to date.

"Nah, I scored another one with my face once," he said. "That one hurt pretty good, though."

More painful, however, would be missing the playoffs in the second season under head coach Dave Hakstol. And that seems more and more likely to be the case for the Flyers as time continues to run out.

Even if the Flyers go 5-0-0 the rest of the way, they still have just a 3.8 percent chance of earning the final wild card spot. If they go 4-0-1, that number dips to 0.5 percent. Anything worse would leave them with 90 points at most, meaning Boston would have to pick up just two points to remain ahead of them. And after running close to 155 million simulations, gives them a zero percent chance of making it if they don't reach 91 points.

If we go by that math, the Flyers will need to grab at nine of the 10 possible points remaining to have a shot at making it, not to mention that they'll need to get past a few other teams along the way. Take a look at the Flyers' remaining schedule. Do you see nine points in there?

vs. New Jersey Devils
at New York Rangers
at New Jersey Devils
vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Even if the Flyers get those nine points, their chances are slim – Boston would need to be held to just two points in their final five games. And because the Flyers can at most finish with 92 points, even if they're able to win out, the Bruins only need four more to mathematically eliminate them from the postseason.

“It’s tough," captain Claude Giroux said. "We know we could be in a better position, that’s on us. But you know what, you can’t control what other teams are going to do we can only control our games. Like I said, you got to hope for some help and we’ve got to play our game.”

They also can't control time. And this late in the season, that time can expire in the blink of an eye.

If the Bruins beat the Panthers on Saturday afternoon and the Flyers lose to the Devils in regulation, it'll be all over. Just like that, those last grains of sand in the hourglass that is the Flyers' 2016-17 season will have fallen into place.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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