Flyers

Best of NHL: Steve Mason torched in Jets debut; Brayden Schenn helps Blues top Pens

Best of NHL: Steve Mason torched in Jets debut; Brayden Schenn helps Blues top Pens

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Patrick Marleau scored twice in his Maple Leafs debut and Toronto beat the Winnipeg Jets 7-2 on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.

The 38-year-old Marleau signed with Toronto as a free agent after 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks. He has 510 career goals.

Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander scored in a three-minute span in the first period. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner also scored, and Frederik Andersen made 35 saves.

Mark Scheifele ended Andersen's shutout bid midway through the third period, and Mathieu Perreault also scored for Winnipeg.

New Jets goalie Steve Mason was pulled after Marleau's second goal 36 seconds into the third period, having allowed five goals on 20 shots. Connor Hellebuyck stopped nine of 11 shots in relief (see full recap).

Schenn helps Blues top Penguins in overtime
PITTSBURGH -- Alex Pietrangelo beat Matt Murray 1:15 into overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.

The Blues recovered after letting a two-goal, third-period lead slip away when Pietrangelo's shot from the slot hit Murray and slipped under the crossbar for his second goal of the game.

Paul Stastny had a goal and an assist for the Blues, Brayden Schenn and Colton Parayko also scored, and Jake Allen finished with 34 saves.

Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary scored 54 seconds apart in the third to tie it, but the Penguins couldn't complete the comeback on a night the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions raised the franchise's fifth Cup banner to the rafters at PPG Paints Arena. Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta also scored for the Penguins. Murray stopped 28 shots (see full recap).

McDavid's hat trick leads Oilers over Flames
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored a hat trick in the season opener, Cam Talbot made 26 saves and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 3-0 on Wednesday night.

Mike Smith stopped 42 shots in his debut for the Flames, who fell to 0-7-1 in their last eight openers.

McDavid, the NHL MVP last season, began the scoring 11 minutes into the first period when he beat a helpless Smith after taking a pass from Leon Draisaitl.

Talbot had to be sharp on several occasions to keep the second period scoreless, although the Oilers led 29-21 in shots after 40 minutes.

Edmonton went up 2-0 eight minutes into the third as McDavid turned on the jets to blow past a pair of Calgary defenders and beat Smith up high on a breakaway. It was his third breakaway of the game and 150th career point.

McDavid put his third goal into an empty net as Draisaitl set him up again after a crushing hit by Milan Lucic pried the puck loose (see full recap).

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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AP Images

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — And now comes the real test.

Watch the Flyers one night and they may look unbeatable. The next night they’ll come out flatter than Kyrie Irving’s view of Earth.  

The Flyers, maddeningly inconsistent at times — OK, most of the time — will need to build off of Friday’s Game 5 win to keep the series alive with a win in Sunday’s Game 6.

It’s now or never for these Flyers.

After steamrolling the Penguins in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Flyers returned to home ice with all the momentum in the world. And we all know what happened next. A 5-1 drubbing in Game 3, a loss seemingly dolled out before the horn sounded after the first period.

This time around, though, the orange and black will have a huge upgrade they were dearly missing in Games 3 and 4.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth. Yes, that’s right, the oft-injured Neuvirth is the Flyers’ best and only hope of forcing a Game 7. That’s not a hot take, either. Just check out the numbers.

Neuvirth’s playoff numbers are staggering. His .930 career playoff save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average rank third and fourth, respectively, among active goalies. 

“I just enjoy playing in the playoffs,” Neuvirth said of his ability to ramp up his play in the postseason. “Crowds been unreal in Pittsburgh and at home so it’s just so fun playing in the playoffs. I had success in the past, even in the AHL so I believe in myself that I can bring my A-game on the big stage.”

The fact is, Neuvirth — when healthy — is the only goalie on the Flyers’ roster capable of delivering that brick-wall, game-stealing performance for the team.

Playing his first full game since Feb. 16, Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5, including the ones that mattered most. 

The 30-year-old stoned the Pens’ blazing powerplay, as the penalty kill went a perfect 5 for 5. The Pens came into the game 5 for 19 with the man advantage, but the stability of Neuvirth, as well as the return of Sean Couturier, stifled the attack.

“We knew Neuvy was gonna come in and play big for us,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s a playoff goaltender.”

And he did just that in Game 5. With the extra attacker, Neuvirth robbed Sidney Crosby of a soul-crushing, game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the game to send the series back to Philly.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said after the 4-2 win. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, that was all just one game. 

But with the Flyers facing elimination, one more game is all the team can ask for. 

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

PITTSBURGH — When Dave Hakstol decided to push a few buttons prior to Game 5, the initial reaction was the noise that rings out when a toddler sits down at a piano for the first time.

Valtteri Filppula centering Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek? Dale Weise back in the lineup for the first time in 23 days? Starting a goalie that many feared would pull up with a groin injury midway through the second period? And of course, the only defense pairing that’s remained intact is Brandon Manning with Radko Gudas. 

None of it sounded all that good, but desperate times apparently call for unconventional coaching decisions. Hakstol found a way to string a few notes on a sheet of music, and while he may not be considered the NHL’s Beethoven behind the bench, Friday's game at least left you tapping your foot to the beat.

And somehow it all came together.

Consider: How may teams can cycle through three different goaltenders and three different No. 1 centers five games into a playoff series against the two-time champions and still live to see another day?

Even Claude Giroux, the franchise’s No. 1 center for most of the past decade, was singing Filppula’s praises. 

“He’s a smart player and he’s in great position all the time,” Giroux said. “We did some nice plays. I think it’s probably the first time I’ve played with him. He’s easy to play with. It was fun.”

But ultimately the Flyers needed a showstopper in net. General manager Ron Hextall pointed that out Thursday before the team charter departed for Pittsburgh. 

Brian Elliott had been pulled in two of his four starts in this series, and while it was a mere footnote of a dreadful 5-0 shutout loss in Game 4, the decision to give Michal Neuvirth the nod over Petr Mrazek as Elliott’s backup could very well be the single biggest reason the Wells Fargo Center is hosting a Game 6 Sunday.

“We just felt Neuvy looked sharp in practice,” Hakstol said. “He went in the other night and got some game action. Just talking it through with Kim Dillabaugh, our goaltending coach, he was the right choice.”

Sidney Crosby would agree. The Penguins superstar had scored at will in this series, and the only time he had been denied on the doorstep was the result of some sort of stick malfunction in Game 2 that saw his shot miss the net completely.

But with 50 seconds remaining Neuvirth’s glove was better than Crosby’s stick. He not only saved the game but the Flyers' season as well.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Neuvirth now has a 3-1 record with a .960 save percentage in five career postseason games with the Flyers.

Giroux also referred to the Flyers' Game 5 win as the team’s best overall game in this series.

Of course, this time of the season it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just has to be good enough that it doesn’t leave your ears bleeding.