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

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

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.

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.

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. Veteran coach John Tortorella in his second season on the bench 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.

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 hope 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

Dan Gelston, The Associated Press