When the puck finally dropped, the cards were already set.
And in the Flyers’ ever most favor.
With losses by the Red Wings and Bruins to begin a wild Saturday, the Flyers knew heading into their home finale against the Penguins that just one win over the final two regular-season games would do the trick and punch their playoff ticket.
They pounced on the opportunity, beating resting Pittsburgh, 3-1, at the Wells Fargo Center to secure the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot for their 38th postseason appearance in franchise history and first in the Dave Hakstol era.
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The Bruins (93 points) were left out after falling flat to the Senators, 6-1, while the Red Wings (93) won third place in the Atlantic Division — via regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker — despite losing to the Rangers, 3-2.
For the Flyers (94), Wayne Simmonds scored a pair of goals — Nos. 31 and 32 on the season — and Steve Mason finished the quest he started.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare iced it with an empty-net goal.
Of course, the Flyers (40-27-14) made it dramatic, losing three straight games heading into Saturday, but still avoided missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1992-93 and 1993-94 campaigns.
The Flyers will be the No. 8 seed in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs and face No. 1 seed and NHL-leading Washington Capitals, who they went 2-2-0 against in the regular season with victories in overtime and the shootout.
The Penguins (48-26-8), who had won the first three meetings with the Flyers and were 14-1-0 in their last 15 games overall, are in the postseason for the 10th straight season. Pittsburgh will face either the New York Rangers or New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh struck first on a two-on-one rush as Nick Bonino beat Steve Mason at 11:57 of the first period off a nicely executed pass from Carl Hagelin for a 1-0 lead.
With Penguins third-string goalie Jeff Zatkoff unexpectedly in net, the Flyers answered with just over a minute left in the opening stanza when Jakub Voracek, skating along the side boards, put a perfect pass on Simmonds’ stick right in front for an easy tip-in and 1-1 tie.
The Flyers went to their bread and butter for the go-ahead marker at 16:58 of the second period. Shayne Gostisbehere sent a blast into a slew of bodies, where Simmonds did what he does best, deflecting the puck top shelf past Zatkoff.
Mason made his 12th consecutive start and 17th in the last 18 games.
He stopped 18 shots and went 10-4-3 in those final 17 starts — and not one clunker.
With regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury still out recovering from a concussion, 21-year-old Matt Murray started in net. Murray was forced to leave in the first period when Brayden Schenn inadvertently skated into his head.
Pittsburgh turned to Zatkoff, who hadn’t played in a game since Feb. 20. He made 21 saves.
The Flyers went on the game’s first 4:42 into the action and missed scoring by inches when Claude Giroux hit the crossbar on a finesse shot in close.
They also whiffed on a five-minute power play gifted by Tom Sestito, who was handed a game misconduct after interference on Ryan White and fighting Chris VandeVelde.
Overall, the Flyers went on 0 for 3 while the Penguins went 0 for 1.
At 1-1 in the second period, the Flyers killed off a crucial four-on-three Penguins power play that saw quality looks for Pittsburgh.
Per Comcast SportsNet’s Breakfast on Broad host Sarah Baicker, the beloved Lauren Hart FaceTimed with Flyers chairman Ed Snider while singing “God Bless America” prior to the game.
Hart told Baicker, “If Ed Snider couldn’t be in the building, I’m bringing the building to him!”
Snider is dealing with health issues at his home in Southern California.
With their playoff spot and seed already secured, the Penguins sat their two leading scorers, center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang (see story).
After sitting Thursday for the first time in 31 games, Nick Cousins returned to the lineup. He replaced Scott Laughton, who was a healthy scratch.
The Flyers finish the regular season against the Islanders on Sunday night in Brooklyn.
The 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday, April 13.