The Flyers and new-look Blue Jackets, teams fighting for their playoff lives, will meet in Thursday’s key matchup in Columbus. The Blue Jackets are one point out of a playoff spot, while the Flyers are much more desperate — seven points behind with 19 games remaining. The Flyers have a winning record against every division except their own, the Metropolitan. They are 6-9-1 in division matchups, and their next five games are against Metro opponents.
“We need to be better in our division,” center Sean Couturier said after Wednesday’s practice in Voorhees. “We’ve lost three times already to Columbus. Those are points we can’t get back, but at the same time, that’s behind us and we have to look forward.”
The Flyers lost to Columbus, 6-3, with Cal Pickard as their goalie. They also dropped a 4-3 overtime decision with Anthony Stolarz in the nets, and fell, 4-3, in Carter Hart’s third appearance.
Now Brian Elliott (2.51 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) will face the Blue Jackets, who are six points ahead of the Flyers.
“It’s almost our playoffs right now,” said Couturier, who leads the Flyers with 25 goals.
Couturier says you “try not to look at [the standings] when you lose, but when you’re winning, you try to see where you’re at. But what I think has made us successful is taking it one game at a time, trying to catch the next team in front of us.”
They passed Buffalo with a 5-2 win Tuesday over the Sabres. That gave the Flyers a 14-3-1 record in their last 18 games.
“Now we’re chasing another team, and it starts with [Thursday’s] game,” Couturier said
The Flyers’ strong push, which started with a 7-4 win over Minnesota on Jan. 14, has closed a playoff gap that had reached as much as 16 points. No team in NHL history has ever made the playoffs when they were 16 points behind at any point in the season.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be in this type of position,” right winger Jake Voracek said about a resurgence that has brought the Flyers (30-26-7) into the playoff conversation. “We still have a long way to go because we have two teams to jump by to get in the playoffs, but we have a few games against them as well. It feels good to be playing the way we are now, but the work isn’t done yet.”
The Blue Jackets (35-24-3) have made multiple changes since last Friday, acquiring center Matt Duchene, forward Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid, and backup goalie Keith Kinkaid ahead of the trade deadline.
“We better understand we need to get in, and we’re not going to skill our way in – no matter what the transactions were,” Columbus coach John Tortorella told reporters after the Blue Jackets’ 5-2 loss Tuesday to visiting Pittsburgh, a team whose defense has been depleted by injuries. “We need to stay true to our identity or we’re not going to get in.”
Voracek said Columbus doesn’t give teams much time or space, “so it’s always an annoying game against them. We just have to be patient through the 60 minutes and find a way to grind out the two points.”
The Jackets’ personnel changes, Voracek hopes, will help the Flyers.
“Sometimes, if you play teams a couple days after the [trade] deadline … it can screw up the chemistry for the first few games, so we can kind of take advantage of that,” he said.