Samuel Ersson blanks Devils to keep Flyers' slim playoff hopes alive in 1-0 win


PHILADELPHIA — Forget flipping games on TV, scrolling social media, reading the ticker or most traditional means of scoreboard watching in the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers are ready to tune out the noise — and can only hope when they tune back in, Game 82 will mean something to their playoff fortunes.

“We’re not going to look at the scoreboard,” coach John Tortorella said. “Maybe some people do. I’m not.”

Travis Konecny scored a short-handed breakaway goal and Samuel Ersson stopped 20 shots to keep the resolute Flyers’ miniscule postseason hopes alive with one game left to play in a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

“I’m just glad they showed who they are,” Tortorella said. “They’ve been that all year long.”

The Flyers entered Saturday with two games left while Pittsburgh, Washington and Detroit all had three games remaining as they competed for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers had to win both games to have a shot at a playoff berth. The rest hinged on Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington all losing or tying their games to give the Flyers a slim mathematical edge at making the postseason for the first time since they reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2020.

Ersson said he won’t watch the other games “at all” ahead of Tuesday’s finale against Washington.

“You want to look,” he said, laughing. “But I think it’s better to just focus on what we’re doing and what we can control here.”

Konecny’s NHL-best sixth short-handed goal past Kaapo Kahkonen in the second period stood as the difference maker and ensured the Flyers at least ended the game with a chance to extend their season.

“It was just getting back to believing,” Konecny said. “We know where we’re at. We talk in the room about as long as we go home after the last three and say we gave it our best shot, it’s all you can do. You can feel it in the room right now. Guys want to prove we should be in the spot we’re at.”

Just getting to the last week of the season with meaningful hockey to play had to feel like a small win for the franchise. In the midst of a rebuild, the team was widely picked by experts, fans and bettors to finish near the bottom of the NHL. In his second season on the bench, Tortorella instead squeezed every ounce of talent, and summoned all the grit he could out of his players to thrust them into a playoff race.

For most of the season, the Flyers not only played over their heads, they succeeded while navigating the loss of No. 1 goalie Carter Hart to sexual assault charges and the murky circumstances that led to 2022 No. 1 draft pick Cutter Gauthier forcing a trade.

The good times have been scarce in Philly when the NHL playoffs start — the Flyers missed each of the last three seasons and haven’t played a home postseason game since 2018. Philadelphia hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since its lone championships in 1974 and 1975.

So why did the slide start?

Perhaps a notoriously prickly Tortorella pushed his players past the point where they could produce more than what he expected out of them. Ersson went from backup goalie to workhorse and faded down the stretch under the stress of heavy minutes. The Flyers lost eight straight games — a streak snapped only Thursday against the Rangers — against some of the worst teams in the NHL. And only those inside the locker room know the true consequences of Tortorella’s decision to healthy scratch Sean Couturier only 34 days after he was named team captain.

“I know the record thinks we just fell off the map but we were playing good,” Tortorella said. “We just couldn’t keep the puck out of that and we couldn’t score.”

Tortorella said he expected in the preseason for Ersson to play no more than 20 games. The Swedish goalie instead played his 50th out of 81 games on Saturday night.

“We have struggled in net. And it’s not the persons, it’s the goaltending situation that I think knocked us down,” Tortorella said. “I think we’re 90-plus (points) if the goaltending situation didn’t happen the way it did. It caught up to us. And I’m not apologizing to anybody for playing Ers as much as I did. I’d do it again.”

Flyers general manager Danny Briere and team president Keith Jones are poised for another long offseason to figure how to separate the good from this year out of the freefall at the end and find out just what can turn the franchise into winners again.

They just have to keep the faith the decisions won’t start this week.

UP NEXT

Devils host the Islanders on Monday.

Flyers host the Capitals on Tuesday.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl



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