Flyers

Future Flyers Report: Monster weekend for intriguing Maksim Sushko

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Aaron Bell, OHL Images/USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Monster weekend for intriguing Maksim Sushko

Boy, last week sure was something. The Flyers suffered a devastating loss in Nashville, where they showed many positives but a questionable coach’s challenge did them in, and then blew out Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals to the tune of 8-2 Saturday (see Weekly Observations).

This week sees the Flyers continue their five-game homestand as the Panthers, Predators, and Connor McDavid’s Oilers come to the Wells Fargo Center.

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we’ll check in on a 2017 fourth-round pick’s career night, a player who many thought would crack the Flyers’ roster and plenty more from a busy week.

Maksim Sushko, RW, 18, 6-0/179, Owen Sound (OHL)
With a 12-6 final, Saturday night’s game between Owen Sound and Oshawa had plenty to write about. Seventy-one shots on goal. Eight combined goals in the second period. Fifty-eight penalty minutes. And a career night for Sushko, who recorded his first career OHL hat trick with a four-goal game, also a first. Two of his four markers came shorthanded. He’s the fifth player in Attack history to score two shorties in a game.

Sushko picked up where he left off Sunday. The winger scored his fifth goal in two games and added an assist in Owen Sound’s 4-3 overtime win over London. A 2017 fourth-round pick, Sushko has an intriguing skill set the Flyers hope will come together.

Mike Vecchione, C, 24, 5-10/194, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
The Phantoms had a rough weekend with three games in three nights — away at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, home against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then at Hershey. But we saw a few firsts for Lehigh Valley. Let's start with Vecchione.

Vecchione recorded his first professional goal in the Phantoms' 3-2 win Saturday night over the Penguins. The Union College product unleashed a snipe job from the faceoff circle to beat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Tristan Jarry. In five games with Lehigh Valley, he now has a goal and three assists.

For some, Vecchione was a surprise cut by the Flyers, but once the orange and black landed the No. 2 overall pick, it was a long shot for the Hobey Baker finalist to crack the roster. With the Phantoms, Vecchione will continue to develop and get acclimated to the professional game. He attempted to make the Flyers as a right winger in training camp but failed to do so. He's a call-up candidate should injuries hit the Flyers' forward group.

Philippe Myers, D, 20, 6-5/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Sunday night, it was Myers' turn to pick up his first professional goal, when he started the Phantoms' third-period comeback in their 4-3 shootout win over Hershey.

Myers' status for Sunday was questionable after the defenseman blocked a shot late in the third period and needed help getting off the ice Saturday. Myers was able to suit up Sunday in Hershey and sparked three straight goals for the Phantoms.

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
This is an important season for Laberge, as explained in our first Future Flyers Report, and so far, so good for the 19-year-old. Laberge, who plays both center and right wing, had another productive week for the Tigres. Last Thursday, Laberge registered a goal and two assists in Victoriaville’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Quebec Remparts. Friday night, he picked up a five-minute penalty and misconduct and then was suspended Saturday against Shawinigan. All in all, it’s been a strong start for Laberge, who has eight points in seven games. He has two multipoint games and points in five games.

Quick hits
• After going pointless in his first two games last week, German Rubtsov exploded for a three-assist night in Chicoutimi’s 5-2 win over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar Saturday night. He has yet to pot a goal but has six assists in five games with the Saguenéens.

Carsen Twarynski continued his strong start for the Kelowna Rockets (WHL). Twarynski had a two-goal game Friday in a 5-4 overtime loss to Portland. Twarynski, a 2016 third-round draft pick, has five goals and eight points in six games this season.

• Kitchener captain Connor Bunnaman snapped a seven-game goal drought dating back to last season Friday with his first of the season in a two-point game. Bunnaman then scored twice Saturday and added two goals and an assist Sunday. He has nine points in nine games.

• After failing to make the Flyers, Oskar Lindblom is pointless in five games with the Phantoms.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri stayed hot last week. Salinitri had a goal and an assist Friday, a goal Saturday and a goal and an assist Sunday. He now has seven points during his five-game point streak.

• A rough week for Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe, at least in the plus/minus department. Ratcliffe was pointless in three games and was a minus-8.

Matthew Strome had a goal and an assist in three games last week for Hamilton.

• It was a solid, productive week for Sault Ste. Marie’s Morgan Frost, who had a three-point game last Wednesday, a goal Saturday and an assist Sunday.

• Alex Lyon started all three Phantoms games this weekend. Lyon allowed four goals Friday night but battled back with solid efforts Saturday and Sunday. He stopped 72 of 81 shots.

• Brynäs IF goalie Felix Sandstrom turned away 32 of 33 shots Saturday in a 2-1 win over Skelleftea. This came after allowing three goals on nine shots last Thursday.

• It’s been a quiet start for Tanner Laczynski in his sophomore season at Ohio State. Another pointless weekend for Laczynski, and he now has no points in four games.

• Another weekend, more points for Western Michigan’s Wade Allison. Allison had an assist Friday and then two assists Saturday against No. 15 Clarkson, both losses. Allison has seven points in five games for the Broncos, which is second on the team.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa played a hand in the Golden Knights’ pair of weekend wins over WMU. Amorosa had an assist Friday night and then a goal Saturday night. The senior now has points — six total — in all four games this season.

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Sunday afternoon for Game 6 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-2)
3 p.m. on NBC; Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP+ with Postgame Live after final buzzer

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Dominik Simon, Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Ivan Provorov
The Flyers' minute-munching defenseman was dinged up in the final 90 seconds of the Game 5 win. Provorov's presence is vital if the Flyers want to push the series to a Game 7. He logged 30 minutes in Game 5 and the Flyers needed him on the ice during the final minute when Sidney Crosby nearly tied the game. Provorov hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and while I don’t expect him to miss Game 6, watch closely to see if he’s limited in any way.

Bold prediction: Game 6 will be decided in overtime. You have to go back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Devils to find the Flyers' last playoff game decided in overtime — a stretch of 20 straight in the postseason. As poorly as the Flyers have played on home ice in this series, Game 6 will be competitive as Michal Neuvirth will turn in another solid effort to keep the game close.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on:
Flyers on home ice​
The Penguins have outscored the Flyers, 20-4, in eight games at the Wells Fargo Center this season, including the playoffs. No one thought there would be a Game 6, yet here we are. The Flyers extended their season one more game, but how will they fare on home ice? Home ice hasn't treated the Flyers well vs. Pittsburgh; they have to figure it out today.

Bold prediction: The Flyers are so unpredictable. With that said, I don't see this series going back to Pittsburgh. This one will be close; perhaps the Flyers even take the lead. But in the end, the Penguins come out on top, and the Flyers schedule their vacations.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Michal Neuvirth
Neuvirth is arguably the most important player on the ice for the Flyers. With the lineup employed, the Flyers are trying to muddy things up in an attempt to force the Penguins out of their style. A more physical, low-risk approach keeps the Flyers in it, but to play such a game, you desperately need your goalie to do his part. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 with 133 saves on 137 shots for a 1.01 goals-against average in his last four playoff starts. Can he have sustained success against these Penguins?

Bold prediction: The team that has scored first has won every game of the series. That will change in Game 6 as momentum swings will be felt at a lively, pressure-filled Wells Fargo Center.

Recommended reading
• Flyers' fate lies with Neuvirth ... and that's a good thing

• Hakstol's unconventional decisions keep season alive

• With Giroux's story, heroic Couturier pulls a Pronger

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.