Nothing can change a playoff series like a hot goaltender, and in his first two starts for the Philadelphia Flyers in their first round series against the Washington Capitals, Michal Neuvirth is starting to look like that type of goalie.
After a strong performance in Game 4 to help the Flyers avoid a sweep and stay in the series, Neuvirth took his game to an entirely new level on Friday night and turned in what could end up being one of the best goaltending performances of the postseason in a 2-0 Flyers win to force a Game 6, sending the series back to Philadelphia on Sunday.
By pretty much every objective measure the Capitals were a better team than the Flyers during the regular season, and at times during this series they have shown that superiority. At no point in this series has that gap in talent been more evident than on Friday night when the Capitals set up shop in front of the Flyers’ net and pretty much cut the rink in half.
In the end, none of it mattered.
Let’s look at why, as well as the rest of the takeaways from Friday’s Stanley Cup Playoff action.
The Philadelphia Flyers found a way to force a Game 6. (USATSI)
1. Michal Neuvirth won it for the Flyers by himself. Other than actually scoring a goal for the Flyers, he really did do it by himself. All of it. This win was about him and nobody else.
The numbers in this game are staggering.
The Capitals ended with a 44-11 shots on goal advantage for the game. The total shot attempts were 80-27. In the second period alone Washington had a 30-4 total attempts advantage (16-2 in terms of shots on goal) while the Flyers went the final 10 minutes of the period without even attempting a shot.
After the first period ended the shots on goal were 30-5 in favor of the Capitals.
So how did the Flyers end up actually winning the game 2-0? It was this all night, over and over from Neuvirth.
— #StanleyCup Playoffs (@NHL) April 23, 2016
It wouldn’t be fair to say the ice was tilted toward the Philadelphia end. The Washington end of the ice simply did not exist in this game.
You do not get outshot by that kind of a ridiculous margin, and spend that much time in your own end chasing the puck, and actually come away with a win without an unbelievable performance by your goaltender.
The Flyers got that, and probably more, on Friday.
2. The Capitals were unlucky in more ways than one. Not only by running into a goalie that played the game of his life, but also when it came to the Flyers’ first goal on the night. Ryan White‘s goal in the second period, just seconds after a Justin Williams penalty expired, only went in the net because it bounced in off of the skate of Capitals defenseman Taylor Chorney.
The Flyers would add an empty net goal with less than 30 seconds to play to put the game out of reach.
3. The Capitals weren’t happy with Brayden Schenn. There was an incident in Game 4 of the series where Flyers forward Brayden Schenn cross-checked Evgeny Kuznetsov in the knee after a play came to an end in front of the net. It took the Capitals 10 seconds to respond in Game 5 when T.J. Oshie, a player that does not typically fight, dropped the gloves with him.
It really did not go well for Oshie.
4. Capitals fans might be experiencing some deja vu. The Capitals shouldn’t be the team feeling the pressure in this series, even right now. They are clearly the better team, are still in a better position in the series, and if they play like they did on Friday they will win more often than not. But with the way these past two games have gone with the Flyers finding a way to scratch their way back into the series, Capitals fans are probably feeling just a little nervous. Whether it’s a hot goalie stealing a series from a superior team (hello, 2010 Jaroslav Halak!) or letting a big lead in a series slip away, Capitals fans have seen movies that have started like this before.
Be sure to check back in throughout the rest of the night for more takeaways from the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoff action from around the NHL.