VOORHEES – When the Flyers were in the midst of an eight-game (0-6-2) winless streak back on Jan. 8, it would have been easy to throw in the towel.
But they didn’t.
Even though they fell to 16 points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 15, they didn’t give up.
Now, just three weeks later, the landscape has changed completely.
A seven-game winning streak has allowed them to cut the deficit to just seven points heading into Monday night’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flyers have positioned themselves to make a run at it. With 30 games left, they probably need about 44 more points to have a chance at the postseason (96 points have been about the average total for the final seed in both conferences over the past decade).
It would be some kind of miracle, considering only one team, the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators, has come back from such a deficit.
The Senators were 14 points out on Feb. 7, 2015 when they had a record of 20-22-9 good for 49 points.
From there, they went 23-3-4 the rest of the way to finish with 99 points, overtaking Boston on the last weekend of the season.
At first mention, the Flyers would be quick to tell you they aren’t thinking about repeating that sort of history.
But dig a little deeper and they will admit that, privately, it’s on their minds quite a bit.
In some folks’ opinion, not quitting at that low point in early January was key.
“It felt like we hit rock bottom,’’ Giroux said after Sunday’s optional practice at the Skate Zone. “Nothing was going our way. We couldn’t get a win. We didn’t think we were playing badly and that’s the worst part.
“When you’re playing hockey and you’re losing games, they’re tough to swallow. But right now we’re playing good hockey and getting the results we want.’’
Sean Couturier believes there’s still time to pull off this out-of-the-blue feat but it’s going to take a concerted effort.
Like Giroux, he figures self-belief after that early January skid has been crucial.
“After that losing streak, we’ve been better at key times,’’ he said. “Finding ways to win games even on nights when we’re not playing our best. When it comes down to crucial moments we’re sharp whereas before we would find ways to lose games.
“I don’t think you should ever give up, whatever the situation is. I think we have a lot of pride in this locker room. I think it was important to stick together. As long as we stick together and try to improve as a team, that’s what is important. If we all go our own ways, we’re not improving, we’re not getting better. Kudos to all of us, we stuck together and I think our game is more mature than it was two months ago.’’
Coach Scott Gordon has made believers out of his players and it all seemed to start after that 5-3 loss at Washington on Jan. 8.
“I don’t think we did a good job of sticking to the plan,’’ he said of the streak. “We got behind in a lot of those games. . .the hard part was just consistency. You will have more team success if everyone does that.’’
The coach indicated his players never really thought they were out of it but it’s easy to see why they could have.
“Reality stares you in the face and you know that with every single game you don’t win, you’re digging a deeper hole,’’ he said. “Since that Washington game, we just kind of played it one shift at a time. Not get ahead of ourselves. I think that’s an important way to think, with the standings, too.’’
Safe to say the Flyers are checking their pocket schedules periodically and also out-of-town scoreboards.
“It’s tough (not to think about playoffs) but at the same time it’s important that we stay focused on the next game, Vancouver,’’ Giroux said. “If we start thinking about playoffs, that’s when we get off track, we start thinking about the bigger picture and that’s when you get in trouble.
“I’m telling you guys (media) not to look at the standings, the playoffs, not thinking about it. But I think about it everyday. It’s about not focusing on it, just knowing what your job is. You see games like last night (5-4 overtime win vs. Edmonton) and we get help (Columbus lost to St. Louis) and you start thinking about it.’’
The Flyers would have to win about 20 of their last 30 games to make it. That won’t be easy.
“It’s a good thing that we can do something special, being in last place (in the Eastern Conference, for five days), halfway through the season,’’ Giroux said. “To be able to make the playoffs, that would be great. At the same time, we just have to worry about Vancouver now.’’
As usual with the Flyers, it’s probably going to come down to the final games of the season.
“We seem to be a streaky team,’’ Couturier said. “I don’t think anyone really doubted that we could or couldn’t do it. We knew we still had a chance.’’