The Philadelphia Flyers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. With Steve Mason out with the flu, and Michal Neuvirth’s sudden collapse in the crease 7:37 into the first period on Saturday night, Anthony Stolarz was called upon to man the last line of defense in an emergency basis to try and save any hope of a playoff berth for the Flyers. While the Flyers shut out the New Jersey Devils 3-0 Saturday night after Neuvirth’s scary fainting spell, the Flyers fell just short 4-3 against the New York Rangers Sunday night.
After a scoreless first, Valtteri Filppula opened the scoring in the first minute of the second period to give the Flyers their only lead of the game. A little over three minutes later, Filppula would commit holding against Brady Skjei giving the Blueshirts their second power play opportunity. Despite a win off the draw for the Flyers, Rangers’ winger Mats Zuccarello picked up a loose puck to set up Mika Zibanejad to tie the game up at one. Zuccarello would end up with two more assists, tying his career high for assists in a game.
Rangers held a 4-1 lead until just over two minutes left in the third period when Shayne Gostisbehere set up Brayden Schenn for a clap bomb from the point that beat Henrik Lundqvist clean. Less than a minute later, Filppula cut the lead to one. With :45 remaining, Brendan Smith went to the box for interference on Schenn, Flyers’ Head Coach Dave Hakstol kept Stolarz on the bench for a sixth skater. But the Flyers were unable to convert on the two-man advantage, thanks in part to an incredible glove save by Lundqvist on a one-timer from Claude Giroux.
While some may blame it on the Influenza virus going around in the locker room, the fact remains that the Flyers fell short of the postseason well before Sunday night’s third period rally. Giroux’s failure to cash in on his one-timer with :15 remaining in the third is representative of the kind of season he had this year, and the Flyers season in general. Despite a ten-game winning streak in late-November until mid-December, and a four-game winning streak last week, the Flyers’ inconsistency all season proved fatal to their playoff hopes. For Claude Giroux personally, his 14 goals this season after 79 games is his lowest since the 2009-10 season (in the 2013 season, Giroux tallied 13 goals in the 48-game shortened season. He was on pace for 22 goals that season, if 82 games were played and he did not miss any action). On the bright side, the Flyers’ Captain still posted 43 assists for 57 points so far with a solid faceoff percentage of 55.84.
If examined in a vacuum, Gostisbehere is having a terrific Sophomore Season with 38 points in 73 games from the blue line. The problem, however, is that in nine less games last season, “Ghost” put up eight more points. He had been the victim of a healthy scratch several times this season as a result of his “Sophomore Slump.” He will certainly have all summer to work on his game and come out ready to go for his third season at the NHL level.
But other players may not be back next season. Several players are set to become free agents – restricted and unrestricted – and on June 21, the Vegas Golden Knights will be picking off players from other squads that thirty general managers neglected to protect. The silver lining through all of this is that Flyers’ GM, Ron Hextall, has two and a half months distraction free to make the tough decisions. With a plethora of prospects in the pipeline, including Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim, I would not be surprised to see Andrew MacDonald or Michael Del Zotto either traded, let go, or left exposed to Vegas.
With three games left on the schedule, it may seem a bit early to be discussing future plans. But given the Flyers’ playoff hopes lost in New York City like Kevin McAllister, next season starts right now for the Flyers. Get to it, Hex.