It took longer than expected, but after an overtime period and an extended shootout, the Flyers topped Dallas and clinched a playoff berth for the 15th time in the last 16 years.
It may have just been a formality, with the Flyers sure to pick up the necessary points at some point over the next three weeks, but to know they’re guaranteed a spot in April takes a weight off of their shoulders.
There’s no reason to think about what they have to do to make the playoffs anymore. It’s just a matter of winning once they get there.
To do that, they need to enter the playoff mindset over the next few weeks – prepare the top players for extended ice time, lock in the lines that they’ll play with, and get better in close games.
With the minute-eating Chris Pronger out of the lineup, the top four defensemen got a taste of that last night.
Coburn, Timonen, Carle and Meszaros all played over 25 minutes. Meszaros clocked in at a season-high 28:22.
Unfortunately, though, the Flyers once again failed to hang on to a lead and allowed a third period comeback that forced overtime.
After a slow start for both teams, the Flyers gained control and scored a pair of goals – Jeff Carter deflected a shot home and Mike Richards netted a backhander.
Once they established that 2-0 lead early in the second, the Flyers were forced back on their heels thanks to back-to-back penalties that gave the Stars’ offense some momentum.
Sergei Bobrovsky seemed to be getting better along with Dallas’ offense, though, and they struggled to beat him until an Alex Goligoski shot deflected off of Ville Leino and in.
Going into the third, the Flyers held on to a 2-1 lead, but it was still at risk against Dallas – who hold one of the league’s best records when trailing after two periods.
Thanks to an increasingly-hungry Stars offense, the Flyers were unable to retake control of the game and it was only a matter of time until the Stars tied the game. That came with almost five minutes left when Stephane Robidas fired a slap shot past Bobrovsky on the rush to knot it at 2.
The Flyers were left just holding on to a tie thanks to a late delay of game penalty on Kimmo Timonen that extended into overtime.
Both Bobrovsky and Lehtonen had their work cut out for them in overtime, but neither gave an inch. But their job was only going to get harder in the shootout.
With neither team able to break a 1-1 shotoout tie, round after round of shooters came down on the netminders before Ville Leino finally finished it by getting the puck around an aggressive, diving Lehtonen.
The Flyers return home to Philadelphia for a battle for first place against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
That’s what these final weeks are going to be now – a battle for seeding. The Flyers have the playoffs, now they just need to fight for home ice advantage.