Flyers emerging as dark-horse contender

Though they still have flaws, the Flyers have emerged as a serious postseason competitor. AP Photo/Tom Mihalek

There’s a belief that the Philadelphia Flyers would be among the last teams the Pittsburgh Penguins want to face in the first round (or any round) of the Eastern Conference playoffs. That theory was bolstered this weekend.

The Flyers swept a home-and-home with the Penguins, outscoring Pittsburgh 8-3 in the process. They’re currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division (and in a bit of a reality check, still 15 points behind the Penguins) and three points up on the Capitals, the next-closest nonplayoff team.

The Flyers kept their perspective in check following the wins.

“It’s two big victories for us, we realize that,” Steve Mason told reporters after the game. “We have to put it behind us and get ready for the next ones.”

Said Claude Giroux: “I think we have a lot of things to work on still. We can’t be satisfied where we are right now. We have to keep getting better. The teams we have to play coming up, they’re the best teams in the league. We’ve got to be ready to go.”

The impressive weekend poses a logical follow-up for our first Next Question: Have the Flyers emerged as an Eastern Conference dark horse under Craig Berube?

First, to be a dark horse, they have to make the playoffs, which is still no lock. Giroux mentioned the schedule, and this week will give a great indication as to where the Flyers stand heading into the final stretch of the season. It’s easy to get up for your archrivals in Pennsylvania; now they face the West to see how they stack up against the better conference.

The four-game homestand begins with Tuesday’s game against the Blackhawks, then Philadelphia faces Dallas, St. Louis and Los Angeles. These are all teams jostling for position in the Western Conference playoff race, but so far this season, the Flyers have held their own against the West, with a 12-9-2 record.

It’s a stretch that will help give us an idea as to whether or not the Flyers are capable of making a run. One Eastern Conference executive believes they are a team that could make postseason noise, but with caveats.

“Yes, they could,” he said on Sunday evening, but...

“Goaltending is still a question mark. Their D is average,” he said. “Good balance up front.”

The concerns are valid.