Flyers

There's a new leader atop the Metropolitan Division

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USA Today Images

There's a new leader atop the Metropolitan Division

WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson had a goal and two assists each, Alex Ovechkin had three assists and the Washington Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday night to move atop the Metropolitan Division.

Braden Holtby stopped 25 shots as Washington won its eighth straight home game. Christian Djoos had a goal and an assist, and Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen also scored for the Capitals.

New Jersey had gone eight games without a regulation loss. John Moore scored ate in the first period and Travis Zajac midway through the third. Corey Schneider stopped 30 shots.

Marcus Johansson played in his first game as a visitor in Washington after seven seasons with the Capitals and assisted on both goals.

Wilson got the game's first goal, his sixth of the season, beating Schneider at 2:26 in the first period. Djoos gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead at 11:09. It was Djoos' third goal this season and his first since Oct. 21.

After Moore's goal, Carlson's fourth at 7:01 of the second made it 3-1. Niskanen added his third goal of the season at 4:25 of the third. Backstrom added his eighth goal, an empty-netter, in the game's final minute.

The win was Washington coach Barry Trotz's 737th. He's now in fifth place on the career list, passing Lindy Ruff (see full recap).

Reimer stops 37 for another shutout, Panthers beat Habs
SUNRISE, Fla. -- James Reimer stopped 37 shots for his second shutout in three games and the Florida Panthers beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Saturday night.

It's been a busy month for Reimer since starter Roberto Luongo was injured Dec. 4, and he capped December with another stellar show. He also beat Ottawa 1-0 a week ago with a 38-save effort.

Vincent Trocheck and Connor Brickley scored for the Panthers, who won their fifth straight game with Reimer in goal. Brickley also had an assist.

Carey Price made 32 saves for Montreal, which has lost four straight. The Canadiens have been held to one goal or fewer in four straight games.

The Panthers' winning streak is their longest since they won five straight from Feb. 11-20.

Trocheck put the Panthers ahead 2-0 with 8:11 left in the third period. MacKenzie Weegar passed across the slot to Trocheck, who fired the puck past Price.

Brickley gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 4:02 into the second. Mark Pysyk took a shot that bounced off Brickley in the left circle. Brickley grabbed the loose puck, spun around and shot the puck past Price (see full recap).

Ryan Spooner, Tuukka Rask help Bruins shut out Senators
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Ryan Spooner scored twice and Tuukka Rask made 25 saves in the Boston Bruins' 5-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.

Noel Acciari, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron also scored for the Bruins, 5-1 winners over the Senators on Wednesday night in Boston. Rask had his second shutout of the season and 40th overall.

Mike Condon stopped 29 shots for the Senators. Ottawa was shut out five times in December, going 4-8-2 in the month. The Senators have been outscored 14-6 in their past three games.

Boston took a 4-0 lead in the second, scoring three goals on 13 shots.

Sean Kuraly provided a screen for Acciari, who beat Condon off his backhand for a 2-0 advantage. Just over two minutes later, Ben Harpur, looking to shoot the puck in at the blue line, had his shot picked off by Spooner, who broke in alone and beat Condon through the legs.

Krejci, returning to the lineup after missing six games with an upper-body injury, then picked up Charlie McAvoy's rebound and tucked it in at the side of the net on the power play. The Bruins took a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes of the third when Bergeron tipped Torey Krug' shot for their third power-play goal of the game.

The Bruins opened the scoring at 8:13 of the first on the man advantage. After a couple of solid saves by Condon, a rebound popped right out to Spooner (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.