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Game 81: Flyers vs. Sabres… Meanwhile Pens Can Clinch

Apr 5, 2012, 5:21 PM EDT

Three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins with two games to play, the Philadelphia Flyers need at least a point tonight to have any hope of snatching home-ice from the Pens in round one.
Three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins with two games to play, the Philadelphia Flyers need at least a point tonight to have any hope of snatching home-ice from the Pens in round one. 
They’ll be in their own building this evening, taking on the fighting-for-their-playoff-lives Buffalo Sabres. While the Flyers try to crack Ryan Miller, the Penguins will play host to the Atlantic Division champion New York Rangers.
Here’s the short version: If the Pens win this evening, they will clinch the fourth seed and its home-ice advantage in round one. Likewise, if the Flyers fail to gain even a single point against Buffalo, they will be unable to pass the Penguins and finish no higher than fifth in the East.
All the while, the New Jersey Devils will be… lurking, attempting to leapfrog the Flyers and hop into the five spot — assuming they aren’t just goofing around because they want to play the Florida Panthers. [playoff scenarios and game preview below]

Playoff Scenarios
Three points behind the Penguins, the Flyers need only to tie Pittsburgh by Saturday’s end to win the fourth seed. The first tiebreaker in postseason play is as a result of which team has more outright wins (i.e. wins in regulation and overtime that were not decided by the shootout). As matters currently stand, the Flyers possess 42 ROWs (Regulation plus Overtime Wins) to the Penguins’ 40. They will retain that advantage so long as the Pens don’t clinch by gaining two points over their next two games; at that point, the tiebreaker would be moot.
So, the Flyers need at least three points in their next two games to have any chance. Should they win tonight, and the Pens do no better than an overtime loss, the Flyers will control their own home-ice fate heading into Saturday. But tonight, they need to both take care of business and find themselves on the receiving end of some help from the Rangers.
Oh, the Devils, by the way
Though Flyers have been fixated on the Pens, and certain writers have began using the term “locked in” in reference to a playoff matchup, it’s certainly possible for the Flyers to fall to sixth in the East. Just as the Flyers trail the Pens by three, they lead the Devils by the same number.
Two Devils wins (one tonight over Detroit and one Saturday over Ottawa) coupled with two Flyers regulation losses would pit the Devils against the Pens in the 4-5 and see the Flyers heading South to Sunrise, FL to face the Florida Miami Panthers (we’re starting this movement).
That said, if the Flyers gain even one point in the next three days, such a scenario ceases to be a possibility.
The Sabres
Buffalo was positively dreadful for the first half of the season. In fact, just six weeks ago, they were in last place in the Eastern Conference. But since the beginning of February, the Sabres are 18-7-5, a record good enough to tie the Washington Capitals for eighth and final playoff spot with two games to go. Lindy Ruff (not that anyone cares what he thinks, right Brett Hull?) will no doubt be impressing upon his players what a waste it would be for them to have come this far only to be denied a postseason berth. One can assume they’ll be ready this evening.
And they’ll need to be if they’re going avoid a season-sweep at the hands of what Peter Laviolette will make sure is a very hungry, determined, pissed off and jam-filled hockey club. The Flyers are 3-0 this season against Buffalo, taking two of the three in regulation, and are coming off a greatly disheartening loss to the Rangers as victims of a sweep themselves.
As for the netminder, Flyers fans are no doubt familiar with the goaltending stylings of Miller. At times, they’ve gotten the best of him, while at other moments, he’s no doubt gotten the best of them. Whichever way the pendulum swings tonight could have playoff implications.
Send offs…
– Ilya Bryzgalov in net tonight. 
– Puck drops at 7 p.m. on CSN. You can keep tabs on the Pens and Rangers on NBC Sports.
– An interesting question: how does the dynamic of the Flyers’ Saturday season finale with Penguins change if Pittsburgh clinches home-ice tonight? Discuss below.
– Ted Knight on tonight’s game…