Flyers

Flyers back Mason in win with big third period

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Flyers back Mason in win with big third period

BOX SCORE

Marvelous. Spectacular. Inspiring.

On so many given nights this season, any one of those words could describe the efforts of Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who deserves to have far more wins right now than the six for which he is credited.

Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators, Mason worked his magic again during a 5-2 victory (see Instant Replay). He had a number of quality saves through the first 40 minutes that gave his team a chance. He even put them in position to win.

“He’s been bailing us out a lot,” said defenseman Nick Grossmann, who assisted Mason with two saves with his feet on Kyle Turris in the third period (see story).

“I said it before, he has been our best player the whole year. It’s good to have a guy like that and know he is there if stuff breaks down. Sometimes it just feels nice to return the favor.

“You try to do whatever you can to help him and that’s how it has to work. We need him to be our best player pushing forward here to try to be successful -- that’s what we need.”

The Flyers turned a 2-2 tie in the third period into a win with a dominating performance in the last stanza, something that Mason hasn’t had on his side much of the year.

“Earlier in the season, guys were really struggling to find their games,” Mason said. “You can see it now that guys are starting to play with a lot more confidence, making real nice passes that normally they weren’t making early on in the year.

“So with them coming around with their game and the confidence building, you’re going to see a much tighter hockey game. With us coming back with the two goals in the third period ... that’s what the team is known for in the past -- coming back and having big goals and big opportunities. It’s nice to see and let’s just hope that it keeps continuing.”

Mason even had a penalty shot save on Turris, too, after the Grossmann save.

The victory moved the Flyers within two points of a playoff spot. It also lifted them above .500 (8-7-2) under coach Craig Berube.

Pretty good way to begin a three-game homestand at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers are now 4-7 this season.

“It’s huge,” Mason said. “We haven’t been a good hockey club at home. We’ve had leads going into the thirds, let them go and lost a lot of valuable points, so to continue this stronger play that we have on the road and bringing it home for the first of a three-game home stanza is nice to see.”

Berube was impressed with the third period, which began with his team leading, 2-1. Unlike the shootout loss in Winnipeg in which the Flyers failed to close out a win, Berube's club did the opposite on Tuesday.

“It was a very good response by our team,” Berube said. “I thought the whole third period we played to win that game.

“It's encouraging, good to see. Maybe we got a break on [Grossmann’s save]. I don't now. I haven't looked at it yet.”

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.