Flyers must ignore hoopla as outdoor game critical to playoff push

James van Riemsdyk Philadelphia Flyers NHL

At the last sporting event to take place at Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia Eagles were in a fight for their playoff lives. They needed a legendary and heroic final drive, led by Nick Foles, to outlast the Houston Texans on Jake Elliott’s winning field goal as time expired in late December.

When the Philadelphia Flyers take the ice on Saturday night against the Penguins in the Stadium Series outdoor game at the Linc, the stakes will be almost just as high. The Penguins are one of the teams the Flyers are chasing for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

So, amid all the hoopla, the pre-game ceremony, fake Art Museum steps and the Kenny Chesney concert scheduled after the first period, the actual game, and its outcome, is the top priority in the Flyers dressing room.

Win, and they creep to within four points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot and six points of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are in third place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the weekend.

Lose, and the Flyers watch as their odds of qualifying for the postseason dwindle with 20 games remaining.

“First and foremost, you want to enjoy [the outdoor game experience],” James van Riemsdyk told reporters during a media session last Friday at the Linc.

“They’re a lot of fun and you don’t know how many chances you’ll get to play in these games. Obviously, you’ll have a better memory of it if you win the game – and we need the points. We need to win.”

Van Riemsdyk has played in five outdoor games, including last year with the Toronto Maple Leafs in front of more than 100,000 at the University of Michigan and with the Flyers in 2010 at Citizens Bank Park against the New York Rangers.

The game will mark the organization’s fourth outdoor game and the second one they’ve hosted. They also played at Fenway Park against the Bruins in 2010 and at Heinz Field in 2017 vs. the Penguins. The Flyers lost each game, while the Penguins are 2-2 overall.

The Flyers, who traveled to Montreal on Thursday, missed out on a chance to make up ground against Pittsburgh two weeks ago with a disappointing 4-1 loss. Heading into that matchup on Feb. 11, the Flyers had won eight of their last nine games and trailed the Penguins by six points.

“We actually joked about it after the last game there, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to go on the ice because it’s going to be a battle out there,'” said forward Travis Konecny, who will play in his first NHL outdoor game and added he last played a game outside on a pond when he was 10.

“It’s a big event for everyone to enjoy, but it might come down to one of the biggest games for us this year.”

One very big, and large, advantage for the Flyers is they will have roughly 70,000 fans behind them. The total is significantly more than three times the average 19,000-plus fans who show up at the Wells Fargo Center.  

“When you move to the NHL, you get that excitement of playing in front of 20,000 fans, let alone 70,000,” said defenseman Travis Sanheim, who played most of his games last year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the 8,500-seat PPL Center. “It’s definitely going to be exciting.”

It will no doubt be exciting for the fans. For the players, however, they have to treat it as the most important game of the year.