On the Brink, Can Michal Neuvirth Save Flyers Season after Game 5 Victory?
Two years ago, Flyers goalie Steve Mason found himself benched following a Game 3 loss to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs by a final of 6-1. The Capitals were leading the series 3-0 and the Flyers were on the brink of elimination.
Mason struggled in the first three games of the series, having allowed 12 goals on 81 shots with a .852 save percentage. This included a goal from center ice to then Washington left winger Jason Chimera in Game 2 (See Video). But then Michal Neuvirth took over in goal for Game 4 and the tide of the series seemed to change.
Enter Michal Neuvirth
The Flyers turned to backup goalie Michal Neuvirth for Game 4 and he dominated the Capitals. Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the second period, but Washington came roaring into the third period. Despite the pressure they applied, Neuvirth stood tall, allowing a goal to T.J. Oshie early on in the final period, but coming up with some tough saves late in the period to preserve the win. Neuvirth stopped 31 of 32 shots in Game 4 and the Flyers forced a Game 5 back in Washington down 3-1 in the series.
Back in Washington for Game 5, the Flyers struggled to generate any offensive opportunities on Washington goalie Braden Holtby. An early goal in the second period by Ryan White was all the Flyers could muster up against Holtby and they finished the game with only 11 shots on goal. Meanwhile, Washington was applying the pressure all night to the Philadelphia defense and Neuvirth. But yet again Neuvirth stood tall stopping all 44 shots he faced in a 2-0 shutout win after a empty net goal by Chris VandeVelde. The series was headed back to Philadelphia and it seemed the Flyers had seized momentum behind Neuvirth, trailing 3-2 in the series.
In Game 6, the goaltending of Michal Neuvirth was just as impressive as it was in his first two appearances of the series. A second period goal by Nicklas Backstrom to the high corner of the net was his only blemish of the day as he finished with 28 saves on 29 shots. Philadelphia had their chances, but their series long struggles on offense continued and they fell to the Capitals 1-0, losing the series 4-2. But that does not diminish the effort Michal Neuvirth had in the series, making 103 saves on 105 shots over the course of three games for a .981 save percentage. He essentially carried the team on his back after being down 3-0 in the series and gave them a chance to draw even for a Game 7 in Washington, a task only done by nine teams at the time.
Flash Forward to the 2018 Playoffs
The Flyers found themselves back in the playoffs this year after missing the previous season. This was a Philadelphia team that was streaky throughout the year and had a fair share of ups and downs to get here. Goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth suffered injuries during the regular season which left the Flyers to rely on Alex Lyon and Petr Mrazek from a trade with the Detroit Red Wings for some time. Managing to overcome this as well as a 10-game losing streak in early December, the Flyers would face their in-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Brian Elliott was in the net for Game 1 and was chased out of the game for Petr Mrazek after giving up five goals in two periods in an eventual 7-0 Flyers loss. He rebounded in Game 2 to help the Flyers tie the series up at one with a 5-1 victory in Pittsburgh. But his success was short-lived and in Game 3 he gave up five more goals in a 5-1 loss in Philadelphia.
The Return of Neuvirth
Neuvirth was dressed as the backup for Game 4 coming off a lower body injury that prevented him from dressing since March 28th. Elliott was chased out of the game again after allowing three goals in two periods and in entered Neuvirth. It was just his second appearance in Philly's last 26 games, he gave up two more goals to add on to what would be a 5-0 Pittsburgh win in Game 4 to give them a 3-1 lead in the series.
With Elliott having given up 14 goals in four games, the Flyers turned to Michal Neuvirth as their starter for Game 5. Similar to 2016, he stood on his head and came up with some stellar saves against a Pittsburgh team that applied heavy pressure in the offensive zone all night.
The Flyers got to Matt Murray in the first on a Claude Giroux goal to put them up 1-0. But Pittsburgh came back with a Bryan Rust wraparound goal and Jake Guentzel wrist shot on Michal Neuvirth to take a 2-1 lead. Two minutes later, the Flyers responded with a shorthanded goal by Valtteri Fippula sending the game tied at two going into the third.
Both teams battled hard in the third with Pittsburgh continuing to attack Neuvirth, putting scoring chances on the net. But the Flyers goalie held strong through shorthanded situations and the Penguins pressure before Sean Couturier got the puck by Murray to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead with 1:15 remaining. But Pittsburgh was not done and with Murray on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice, the Penguins continued to pepper Neuvirth. Sidney Crosby shot the lose puck in front of the net and Michal Neuvirth came up with a tremoundous glove save to rob Crosby of a game-tying goal. Neuvirth finished the game stopping 30 of 32 shots in his first full game since March 28th. Matt Read would add in an empty net goal late and the Flyers would force a Game 6 back in Philly with a 4-2 win.
Can Flyers Pull Off Comeback to Win Series?
After switching goalies and pulling off a Game 5 victory with Michal Neuvirth in the net, can the Flyers come all the way back down 3-1 to win the series versus the Penguins? The Flyers seemed to be more physical with Pittsburgh last night and while they drew five penalties along the way, the penalty kill allowed no goals against a Penguins team that was 5-for-19 on the power play so far in the series coming into Game 5. This was due in part to some great saves by Neuvirth who helped the Flyers gain some momentum as the game went on.
The Flyers seemed to get more offensive chances this game and while the defense was still struggling which allowed Pittsburgh to get some good opportunities, Neuvirth was there to make the stops when he needed to. If Michal Neuvirth pulls off a three-game stretch like he did against the Capitals the other year, the Flyers have a chance to come back in the series as long as they can establish momentum early on and generate quality offensive chances against Murray, something they lacked in the series against Washington in 2016.
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