The Flyers would climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division by defeating the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
They would fall out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot — below the two wild cards — if they pick up one point (or less) and Carolina defeats Nashville. Such is life in the oh-so-crowded playoff race.
Carter Hart (17-12-3, 2.59 goals-against average, .906 save percentage) will make his third straight start for the Flyers and just his second career appearance against the Blue Jackets. Hart, 21, has a 4.15 GAA and .790 save percentage vs. the Blue Jackets.
He will face an attack that has scored just 155 goals, second fewest in the Eastern Conference.
Hart will be opposed by Elvis Merzlikins, who is 12-8-6 with a 2.21 GAA and .928 save percentage. Merzlikins, 25, who is having an outstanding rookie season, has never faced the Flyers. In his last 10 games, he has a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage.
The Flyers have been outscored, 63-50, in the first period this season. The minus-13 goal differential in the first period is third worst in the NHL.
In their last three losses, they have been outscored by a combined 6-0 in the opening period.
“It hasn’t been all year, but there have been a few games in the first where we haven’t played our best right away,” captain Claude Giroux said after Tuesday’s morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “We have to come out hard because we know they will.”
After struggling in opening periods, the Flyers have gotten stronger later in games. They have outscored opponents, 75-54, in the third period. That plus-21 differential is third best in the league.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere skated for the third straight day and said his surgically repaired left knee was feeling good.
“Definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.
Gostisbehere will not play Tuesday and is doubtful for Thursday’s game in Columbus. He said he did not know if he needed a rehab stint with the AHL’s Phantoms, and there seems a slight chance he would be available Saturday against Winnipeg.
Asked if he could play Thursday, Gostisbehere said he was ‘huffing and puffing” during drills Tuesday. “For me, wind is a big factor right now, so I have to get that back.”
Gostisbehere needs one point to reach the 200 mark in his career.