THE ODDSMAKERS say that Craig Berube is most likely to be the next NHL coach fired and that his team is among the least likely to make the playoffs, even after last night's thrilling, 3-2 overtime victory over a weary Washington team pushed their point total to 39.
But that didn't deter some on-the-spot ciphering by the game-winner, Jake Voracek, or some of the other boys after last night's hard-earned victory, which pulled the Flyers to within nine points of the final playoff spot in the East, currently inhabited by Saturday's visitors, the Boston Bruins. If anything, they were, well, inspired.
"The next 20 games mean a lot,'' said R.J. Umberger, whose third-period goal tied a game that appeared to once again be slipping from the Flyers' shaky grasp. "We're not going to quit. We're going to take advantage of this stretch of home games and be a better road team down the stretch here. A lot can happen in the second half of the year.''
And a lot must. To have even half a chance to make the playoffs, the Flyers would need points in 30 of their remaining 41 games and would need to win 24 of them, according to SportsClubStats.com. Stated more starkly, a 23-14-4 record the rest of the way would give the Flyers just a 0.4 chance of making the postseason.
Can you say, "Snowball in H-E-Double-hockey-sticks?"
Berube preaches a one-game-at-a-time approach, but the locker-room vocabulary now regularly includes phrases like "streak," "run" and even "games." Beating Boston would shrink the margin between the teams to seven, losing would increase it to double digits, but this half-done, half-empty season is way more complicated than that. There are too many games and too many teams to play one-on-one, and so the focus remains an internal one.
And a perplexing one. Because even amid a week that included a shootout victory over a tepid Ottawa squad and an overtime victory over a Caps team playing for the second night in a row, the Flyers did not look much different than the one that has struggled to a 16-18-7 record and altered the perception of Berube from promising coach to prop bet.
Here's what the oddsmakers may not be factoring, though: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall may want "Chief'' to finish the season with this group, and for a number of reasons.
First, he does not believe they are legitimate Cup contenders, which he made clear shortly after his hire last summer. Remember, Hextall was promoted to overhaul this team, not to tinker with it, and he has made no secret of his belief that it will take a number of years, not half of one.
He also has made no secret of his belief that this team should be playing much better, which is normally what a GM says right before, or right after, he has fired the coach. If your GM thinks the team as currently constructed is underperforming, and is impeded to improve it because of a slew of unfavorable contracts, then what's his next step?
Only step, maybe.
Fire the coach, right? Instead, Hextall, amid threats that changes will be made if the team does not perform better, continually gives Berube a vote of confidence.
This does not mean he sees Berube as his coach in the future. Contrary to a popular outcry, the Flyers don't always try to solve their issues from within, as Ken Hitchcock and Peter Laviolette demonstrate. But they almost always try to fix them that way.
You could argue that despite his roots Hextall doesn't fit that model, and I would join that argument. In a one-on-one last summer, I asked him what he had learned from his tenure in Los Angeles with the Kings.
"I think the biggest thing that I learned out there was how important it was to hire people,'' he said. "And little ways to hire the right people. Because if you don't have the right people, you're not going to be successful. And when we went out there we pretty much redid the whole infrastructure of the organization.''
He also said this: "There's an evaluation process. I'm not a knee-jerk guy. People who I don't think are doing the job I expect, I'd rather challenge them first. And not make moves just for the sake of making moves. I think sometimes you can move too quickly.''
He has not done that here. Even though Berube's own words after the first-round ouster last May now serve as witnesses for his prosecution.
"We need to be mentally stronger," he said back then, and the Flyers have been the polar opposite of that this season. He also said, "We need to get to another level defensively and that's just everybody being accountable every moment they're on the ice," and well, that hasn't happened yet either.
Finally, he said this:
"We have to change people. Because they've done it a certain way for a long while. You've got to change 'em, you've got to get on 'em more. But they've got to want to make it happen.''
He's been on 'em, and . . . nothing. Would a new coach, a new voice, change some of that? History suggests that it would, as it did when Berube took over last season and pushed them into the playoffs like a jockey aboard a reticent horse. But history also suggests that it would provide this team with a scapegoat, and mask the reality of a roster full of hard-to-move contracts and hard-to-watch defensemen.
It took six seasons for Hextall and Dean Lombardi to turn the Kings into Stanley Cup champions. Six seasons, tons of turnover, and tons more of patience.
Not known for his patience, Ed Snider turned 82 on Tuesday. He'd be 88 if he waited that long here. I'm no oddsmaker, but the Flyers have a better chance of making this season's playoffs than that happening.
And Berube of keeping his job.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon