"Have they said that we’re automatically out?’’ Flyers goalie Carter Hart asked after Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Canadiens. "Have they said that? No? Then, exactly. We still have nine games here and mathematically we aren’t out of it, so there’s still a chance and that’s what the mindset has to be in this locker room.’’
He is all of 20, hardly more than a decade removed from being told the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Hardly more than a decade removed from being told the truth about playing in the NHL, too, that less than .02 percent of Canadian boys who dream about one day wearing the sweater of one of the 31 NHL teams actually do so.
A book published in 2013 titled Selling the Dream: How Hockey Parents and Their Kids Are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession put the chance of a young player making an NHL roster not at two in every 100, but two in every 10,000.
And that was a study of just the 30,000 kids playing organized hockey in Ontario.
Not North America. Not Canada. Not the world.
But that’s just it. There is a necessary craziness to professional athletes, a Mad Hatter mechanism they have used to defy all odds and doubts to fulfill a dream that every rationale bone in their body told them was foolish. Just the odds of getting drafted out of high school — 1 in 250, or 0.4 percent — is equal to the chance of flipping heads eight times in a row, according to ProSportsOdds.
"As a kid, I believed I would make the NHL,’’ Travis Sanheim was saying before Tuesday’s loss. "A lot of people around me didn’t believe it. Nowadays, if I was to think about the likelihood of it, it would probably be slim. But that was my dream. I believed in it. And it’s probably why I’m here right now.’’
The odds of the Flyers’ reaching the NHL playoffs before Tuesday night stood at 2.6 percent according to Sportsclubs.com. After they lost to Montreal, leaving them six points behind Columbus with nine games to play, those odds had shrunk to 0.5 percent — or slightly better than flipping heads eight times in a row.
"I liked doing math in high school,’’ James van Riemsdyk said before Tuesday’s game. "Not so much now.’’
"I’m watching NHL Network the other night when Florida wins,’’ Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon said after Tuesday’s morning skate. "And the scroll on the bottom says ‚`Florida has pulled themselves back into the playoff race.’ I look at the standings just to make sure they didn’t get four points in that game. They got two points, which is what I thought, which tied them with us. We lose to Washington and Toronto, and we’re supposedly done. You can’t have it both ways.
"I think the biggest thing is that it’s all contingent on things going the same way. It doesn’t factor in that teams can go on two- and three-game losing streaks. And that dramatically changes how it can go. … Is it conceivable that the two teams above us could lose two or three games in a row and we win two or three? For me, that’s what makes it still a chance.’’
A chance, yes. But it is also contingent on the Flyers’ finishing the season with the same energy, on the same kind of tear that made them relevant in this conversation. They have a remaining schedule in which eight of their nine opponents are currently inside the playoff bubble. The other, Thursday’s opponent, Chicago, is four points shy of the final wild-card spot in the West.
Sportsclubstats.com gives the Blackhawks an 11.7 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Oh, what the Flyers could do with those odds …
Better yet, what they could do with the same mentality that got them to this point. Despite the odds, despite the supportive crowd, the Flyers were flatfooted in the first period Tuesday, and it cost them. Brendan Gallagher’s go-ahead goal actually developed as the Canadiens were making a full change. Shayne Gostisbehere coughed up the puck at his own blue line. Gallagher stripped Oskar Lindblom, fed it to the point, fell, got up, and rifled a rebound past Hart.
It was a pure hustle play. And it was toxic.
Radko Gudas said he thought the teams were feeling each other out.
Travis Konecny said, "No one wanted to make the mistakes because we knew this was a big game.’’
So were the nine before, as are the nine left.
The Flyers had done a nice job until recently in treating each game as its own entity, blocking out the playoff noise. But as the end of the season inches closer, that becomes more difficult, and Tuesday, they looked like a young team finally feeling the heat.
"Our guys haven’t had a chance to feel like they’re blowing it,’’ Gordon said before Tuesday’s game.