The Philadelphia Flyers are certainly not a first place team right now. At the moment, Flyers fans like myself hope that they are not really a fourth place team instead. But with the New York Rangers pulling away from the entire Atlantic Division, the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils are left to battle Philadelphia for second.
The Flyers have been in first or second place throughout the entire season, but that could very well end pretty soon. However, Philadelphia finally got a bit of luck when Pittsburgh failed to leap into second on Feb. 15, thanks to a surprising 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
With both the Flyers and Penguins holding 69 points, a win over Anaheim would have finally put Pittsburgh ahead of Philadelphia again. Instead, the last place Ducks pulled off a pleasant surprise, as ageless Teemu Selanne got a game-winning backhand. As such, the Penguins and Flyers remain tied while the Devils are one point back of both of them.
Now Philadelphia has a chance to open up some ground again, as it just needs to beat the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 16 to break the tie once more. However, a Flyers loss would give the Devils a chance to leap over them and the Penguins, by beating none other than the Ducks on Feb. 17. But the big game that will shape these standings in the short term pits the Flyers against the Penguins on Feb. 18.
That could finally be the game in which Philadelphia tumbles down the standings - especially since it can't seem to do well on the weekends anymore. But for all of the Flyers' recent losses, neither the Penguins nor the Devils have overtaken them yet. Of course, Pittsburgh is more flawed and unpredictable without Sidney Crosby, while New Jersey is streaky and hoping for one last big run from Martin Brodeur.
The entire Eastern Conference has proven to be flawed lately - with the notable exception of the Rangers. It is now a matter of figuring out which team will recover faster and prove to be New York's biggest challenger. The Flyers seem to have the worst case possible for that, given their 0-5 record against the Rangers, yet they can at least keep second place in the Atlantic regardless.
Philadelphia has dodged a few bullets to avoid an actual drop in the standings during this slump. But with the margin of error at zero and a showdown with the Penguins looming, the Flyers may look up at a team other than the Rangers soon enough. That is of course, unless they decide to stay where they are by winning again.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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