It was a given that things needed to be changed with the Philadelphia Flyers. They were down 3-0 in the series and Game 4 was a must-win for the team. Losing Game 3 on home ice at the Wells Fargo Center was not going to secure them a chance to head towards the next series. On a night meant for remembering Flyers chairman Ed Snider, the team imploded on themselves in a 6-1 loss and a nasty moment of fandom. Bracelets intended as a memorial were thrown on the ice in anger as a result of the score. The team wasn’t able to kill the Capitals’ power plays and their offense wasn’t able to score on Caps goaltender Braden Holtby.
On the end of the black and orange, goaltender Steve Mason wasn’t proving to be the sturdy face that the Flyers had been needing as they faced the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Game 1 had been an omen with Mason allowing two goals on 31 shots. Game 2 saw four goals on 23 shots and the disastrous Game 3 saw six goals on 27 shots. Those aren’t good statistics for a team that struggled to make the postseason and had to face a tough team in the first round. With Game 4 looming in Philly, some good news was needed to salvage the season. April 20th was a day of saving grace for the Flyers.
Michal Neuvirth said Dave Hakstol told him he's starting.
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) April 20, 2016
Goaltending is saving grace for Flyers
Head coach Dave Hakstol knew that things had to change for Game 4. Being down three games in a crucial series required that something serious needed to be done. Hakstol decided to switch up the Flyers top line and the result couldn’t have been better. Yet the biggest difference was in the goaltending. Michal Neuvirth, a former goaltender for the Caps, took his place in the net. Until his debut in the postseason, Neuvirth had a career-setting season. He had an 18-8-4 record with a .924 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against. He had only played in the season closer as a lower-body injury had kept him sideline. However, his postseason debut with the Flyers was enough to put all his deficiencies to rest.
Hakstol knew that it would be a change in goaltending that gave the Flyers their first win of the season. Mason had an NHL-worst save percentage of .852. Those aren’t numbers that impressive and had he started in Game 4, there is no doubt that the Flyers would have been eliminated. It was a smart choice by Hakstol to recognize his weakness and address before a crucial Game 4.
Neuvirth could save the series
Having Neuvirth in net for Game 4 was a huge boost to the team morale and is ultimately one of the reasons that the team’s season is still moving forward. His performance outshined Mason’s earlier three games and with his ability to come up clutch when the puck was around him, Neuvy made a case for staying in net the rest of the season. He’s ability to see on the ice is stronger than Mason’s and there is one advantage he has over him. Neuvirth used to be a No.2 goaltender for the Caps before being traded in 2014. That gives him the know-how of the team and familiarity with the playing styles of Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom.
That advantage seemed to be his strength in securing a win in Game 4. Forcing the game back to Washington, D.C., the Flyers needed to set themselves up for another win to push the series to a Game 6. Game 5 proved to be Neuvirth’s night to shine. He recorded a franchise record 44 saves on the night. He carried some of the toughest work on his shoulders and managed to keep Ovechkin away from his net. Pucks rained down on him from all angles but his vision on the ice and speed helped him to shutout the Capitals 2-0. According to the Washington Times, Neuvirth knew that his team still had work ahead of them. “It feels good, but this is a team game and every guy stepped up,” Neuvirth said. “We need to be at our best and we were. It’s a big win for us.”
The win couldn’t have come soon enough as the shutout puts the series at 3-2. It is safe to say that Neuvirth was the force pushing the changes in how the Flyers play and even in their ability to win games. Had Hakstol not made the decision to put Neuvirth in net, it might just be tee time for the team. Yet, they are going to live another day and take the series back to their home ice at the Wells Fargo Center. If Neuvirth can pull out another show-stopping performance against Washington, the Flyers might have a chance at a Stanley Cup run.