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Stop It! Stop It! The Flyers Are Already Dead!

Christian Dvorak celebrates after scoring a goal for the Canadiens
Matt Garies/NHLI via Getty Images

Where were these Montreal Canadiens hiding? During my brief fling with them this past weekend, I could not have imagined that one of the league's leanest offenses had a nine-goal blowout hiding somewhere within it. But on Tuesday, given a shot at one of the few squads in the NHL still desperately in need of all the wins it can carry, Montreal refused to deliver another free two points. Instead, the Habs absolutely destroyed the Philadelphia Flyers, 9-3, to perhaps once and for all sink the postseason hopes of a once-promising upstart.

The only real intrigue left in the NHL's regular season is the bumbling sack-race to steal the last two unclaimed playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: the third slot in the Metro division and the final wild card. The Flyers, eligible for both, came to Montreal needing to prove that they were slightly less mediocre than the Islanders, Penguins, or Capitals, but they'd had a hard time doing so of late. Not a team pegged for greatness at the outset, Philly's simmering pot of mid-20s skaters surprised people with eager offense and tough blue-line play that was only undone by their lack of a goalie. (The underdeveloped youngster Sam Ersson has been forced to make most of the starts since Carter Hart was charged with sexual assault.) Even just a month ago, they looked on the road to an extended season. But the bus is out of gas. Heading into Montreal, the Flyers had lost seven straight, and not even against worthy opponents. The Habs beat them 4-1 two weeks ago. Chicago got them 5-1. The Blue Jackets, on Saturday, mugged them 6-2. And while Philly has won the shots battle in every one of these losses, the finishing and the back-stopping failures have pushed the Flyers underwater.

The return to Montreal was more of the same, but worse. Technically, the expected goals metric gives Philly the edge on a night that was mostly about the accumulation of small chances. But in practice it looked like the Flyers were on the wrong end of an all-star game, because they were not making the Habs work hard for the money.

In a second half where it all slipped away from Philly, easy puck movement in wide-open space let the home team light the lamp again and again. The recent No. 1 pick Juraj Slafkovsky turned in his most promising performance yet with a hat trick, but some older vets like Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher showed up as well. With the game already well out of reach at 7-1, I especially loved the hustle Gallagher showed to chase after a clearance for a breakaway to stretch the lead even further. On some stronger version of this year's Canadiens, the 12-year Hab would be the heart and soul supporting a lively gang of youngsters. But for now, Montreal fans have to sustain themselves on this team's flashes of potential.

And Flyers fans will have to start focusing on baseball. Mathematically, the owners of the 11th-best record in the conference are still in the race, but they're headed in the wrong direction, and with just three games remaining, there isn't any space to make a U-turn.

"This is rock bottom, tonight, for us," coach John Tortorella said on Tuesday. "One thing great about this league—and we're on the wrong side of it—is it's unmerciful. When they get you, it's unmerciful. And I love that about the league, we just happen to be on the wrong side of it right now."

The fight for the East's eighth seed has been a lesson in humility for anyone who dares to assume that a team can be simply "good" or "not good." I respect the power of that spot, and you don't need a long memory to know the threat it holds. But it's also true that whoever gets it is a flawed group that has failed to win with consistency. As teams like the Pens, Caps, and Wings have run hot and then cold, the door has remained open for anyone that can just be winners for a period lasting longer than a carton of eggs takes to expire. But the Flyers have done the opposite, squandering their advantage with increasingly hilarious futility until now they're almost as irrelevant as Buffalo or New Jersey. In a contest built around minimizing bad days, the Flyers have screwed up more than anyone. I'd give them props for just how spectacularly they're getting their butts kicked, but they'd probably just lose those too.

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