Fighting for their playoff lives, the Flyers have a difficult week coming up — two road games against the Metropolitan-leading New York Islanders, sandwiched around a home matchup against Washington, the defending Stanley Cup champion.
Hey, no one said earning a playoff spot was going to be easy, especially when you dig yourself into a 16-point hole.
“We have nobody to blame but ourselves,” right winger Jake Voracek said the other day about the long, exhausting climb toward a possible postseason berth. The Flyers have been climbing, inch by inch, over the last seven weeks and are seven points behind Montreal for the final playoff spot with a game in hand over the Canadiens.
The Flyers, who are on a 15-3-2 run, have 17 games left.
“It’s just going to get tougher and tougher till the end of the year,” said center Sean Couturier, who leads the Flyers with 26 goals. “It’s that time of year where there’s not a lot of room [on the ice] and everyone needs to win. ... We’re a little behind and we have to keep pushing and keep battling and finding ways to win.”
In the matchup at 3 p.m. Sunday, the Flyers (31-26-8) face perhaps the NHL’s most surprising team, the Islanders (37-20-7), who are tied with Washington in points but are considered the Metro leader because they have a game in hand.
Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon will return to Nassau Coliseum and direct a team for the first time since he was fired as the Islanders’ coach early in the 2010-11 season.
“Oh, yeah, I’m expecting a video montage,” Gordon cracked.
“Well, I just hope they don’t boo me, right?" he said. "No snakes.”
Isles fans threw fake snakes at Toronto star John Tavares when he returned to face his former team Thursday.
Under new coach Barry Trotz -- who is aiming for his 800th career win Sunday -- the Islanders have made a startling turnaround despite losing Tavares as a free agent.
A year ago, the Isles were last in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.57). Now they’re No. 1 (2.31). Goalie Thomas Greiss (2.25, .928) has rebounded from a miserable season (3.82, .892). and Robin Lehner (2.07, .931), a free agent who signed to a bargain-basement one-year, $1.5-million deal, has been superb.
The Islanders, who finished seventh in the eight-team Metro last season, have been getting balanced scoring. Eight of their players have between 13 and 22 goals, including former Flyer Val Filppula (13).
“This will be a good challenge; they’ve obviously forged an identity over the course of the season,” said Gordon, who is expected to use goalie Brian Elliott. “They don’t give up a lot.”
The Isles torched Michal Neuvirth in a 6-1 win over the host Flyers on Oct. 27. The teams meet three more times.
On Friday, New Jersey’s Kurtis Gabriel boarded Nolan Patrick in the first period – the Devils winger was suspended for one game by the NHL on Saturday – and the Flyers were in retaliatory mode later in their 6-3 win.
Right winger Travis Konecny acknowledged that teams may look at the Flyers differently since feisty winger Wayne Simmonds has been traded.
“But we’re still the same team. We still stick together,” Konecny said. “I think Simmer left a lot of that with us. He taught us young guys to stick up for our teammates.”