PHILADELPHIA – The drive to keep alive the Flyers’ hopes for the Atlantic Division title continues Thursday night in the unfriendly confines of the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
If the Flyers win their final four games of the regular season, they will capture the division title and the third seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs, regardless of what the New York Rangers do.
Thursday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils is one of two coming up for the Flyers at the Meadowlands, where they are 8-28-5 since 1990-91. That’s about as bad as it gets on the road.
Yet there are 15 players on the Flyers’ roster who do not know what kind of frustration the Devils have imposed on the team.
Because the Flyers soundly defeated the Devils in the 2004 playoffs, most of those players feel that whatever jinx may have existed before their arrival has been banished.
The Devils clinched a playoff spot Tuesday with a 4-3 overtime victory at Carolina. They have won eight games in a row and are 25-11-3 at home.
“I don’t think the Flyers are the only team that has experienced that,” Mike Knuble said when asked about his team’s lack of success when visiting the Devils. “When you do beat them, there is a pretty good feeling.
“There are a few arenas and teams like that when you go into their home arena,” said Knuble, in his first season with the Flyers after signing as a free agent. “I don’t know if it’s because they get the line matches they want or it’s the building, but they seem to do extremely well at home.
“But we have a lot of different faces. You can look at the Flyers’ history, but it’s the history of the faces in the room right now” that matters.
And in the Flyers’ locker room, this group understands one thing: The Devils have beaten the Flyers twice this season in New Jersey, but the Flyers are 3-1 against them on home ice.
The Devils will try to get an early lead to keep their winning streak going (and perhaps catch the Flyers at the fifth seed). That’s been the Devils’ recipe for years, no matter who was behind the bench coaching.
“We know how to have success against New Jersey,” said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock. “We played really well against them for two years now. We also know they are one-goal hockey games. They are going to be close. And if they get a lead, it’s uphill for us. They are prepared to play 1-0.”
The Flyers need to be prepared to play 60 minutes if they want to break the vicious cycle they have been in this month: loss, win, shoot-out loss, win, loss, win. That’s not a recipe for postseason success, and it’s not a successful formula for winning a division, either.
This team needs to buckle down. On Wednesday, the Flyers had an optional skate because of a flu bug among the players. On Thursday, Peter Forsberg, who skated long and hard, will decide whether his injured groin feels well enough to play Thursday night.
Regardless of whether the Flyers’ best player is in the lineup, getting four points in these two games – the second one is Sunday in New Jersey – will not be easy.
Still, the Flyers control their own destiny when it comes to winning the division. They trail the first-place Rangers by three points, but they have a game in hand.
“As a player, that is all you can ask – not to have your season dictated to by someone else winning or losing games,” Knuble said. ” … This is what the schedule makers wanted. They have gotten the inter-divisional play with everything on the line. That is what you want.”