There's a perception that when the playoffs roll around in the NHL the referees put away their whistles and call fewer penalties. That was not the case in the first round matchup between the Capitals and Flyers as both teams had their fair share of power play opportunities.
Luckily for the Caps, both their power play and penalty kill was up to the task.
"The early couple of games were all special teams on both sides," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said.
The Capitals' power play stole the show in the first three games of the series as the Caps went an incredible 8 for 17 with the extra man including a Game 3 blitz of five power play goals.
But while the power play went cold in the second half of the series—the Caps failed to score in their final 10 attempts—the penalty kill remained consistently strong.
"I give their penalty kill a lot of credit," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "Their PK is a pressure PK. They're very disciplined, they're very much in sync together and they did a good job."
In the decisive Game 6 on Sunday, it was the penalty kill and not the power play that proved key.
Locked in a scoreless tie in the second period, Nicklas Backstrom was incorrectly assessed a double-minor for high sticking Ryan White even though replay showed White was actually struck by the stick of his own teammate, Chris VandeVelde.
"I was pretty shocked because my stick was down there but it happens," Backstrom said. "I mean you just got to suck it up."
Just five seconds into the penalty kill, Matt Niskanen was booked for hooking. That gave the Flyers a full two-minute two-man advantage. For a Philadelphia team that had struggled to generate any offense in the series, they were handed a golden opportunity to give goalie Michal Neuvirth another lead to protect. Yet, in the ensuing power play, Braden Holtby turned aside three shots and Jay Beagle blocked another as the the Caps were able to successfully kill off all three penalties.
"Those are big parts of the game," T.J. Oshie said. "When you're at a big disadvantage and you have guys out there blocking shots, Holts making great saves, guys playing it exactly how we wanted to play it, when you kill those off it gives you almost more momentum than a goal would."
"If we don't get through that, this building probably explodes," Trotz said. "We were able to get through that and to me, once we got through that I felt that we were going to find a way to win the hockey game."
It was those moments that quietly colored the series.
Imagine how different things could have been if Philadelphia had been able to score on any of their three power play opportunities they had in the first period of Game 1. Before their late-game meltdown in Game 3, the Flyers had five power plays in what was their first game back in Philadelphia since the passing of owner Ed Snider. Any power play goal would have sparked a lot of momentum from an emotional Wells Fargo Center, but the Flyers failed to score on any of their opportunities.
In fact, the Flyers managed only one power play goal in the series out of 24 chances and it came in Game 4. The Flyers would go on to win that game. In the other five games in which they did not score a power play goal Philadelphia's record was 1-4.
"It was a big difference maker for us in the series," Trotz said. "Early our power play was as well as our penalty kill and then as the series went on our penalty kill ended up being a difference maker for sure."