Matt Bowker

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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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. 

Here's how we could get a Flyers-Panthers play-in game

Here's how we could get a Flyers-Panthers play-in game

Oh boy.

The NHL announced a new tiebreaker Friday. Should the Flyers and Panthers finish the regular season tied in points, wins, points in their season series and season goal differential, the teams will play one final game to advance to the playoffs: A play-in game for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Of course, the Flyers can avert all this madness and simply get one point vs. the Rangers Saturday, punching their ticket to the postseason.

For the Panthers to catch the Flyers, they must win both of their remaining games, while the Flyers must lose to the Rangers in regulation Saturday.

The only realistic way the play-in game would happen is if the Flyers and Panthers finish with the same goal differential. With two games left, the Panthers are a minus-1 and the Flyers are plus-3 with one game remaining.

So, thanks to the mathematicians at Broad Street Hockey, the Flyers would need to lose by two goals to the Rangers, while the Panthers win their final two games in shootouts. Very unlikely.

And should that game happen, there would (thankfully) be no shootout. The teams would play under the playoff overtime format — 5-on-5 periods until one team scores. The location of the game would be determined by an equal draw Sunday night. The Flyers are 2-2 against the Panthers this season, with both losses coming on the road.

Still, it's exciting to think about a Game 83, but we all remember the last time the Flyers played the Rangers in the final game with a playoff spot on the line. 

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

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It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

Take a second and guess which Flyer leads the team in plus/minus. Nope, it's not Ivan Provorov or Sean Couturier.

Give up? At plus-14, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg leads the team. And while plus/minus isn't an ideal depiction of a player's success, it's something the rookie takes pride in.

“Well, absolutely. It means I’m more on the ice when we score goals than against, so of course, I’m taking pride in that," Hagg said. "But at the same time, you can’t read too much into that because every game is different."

Every game is different, but Hagg's steady, solid play has largely remained the same across his first 31 NHL games. The 22-year-old is averaging 19:22 ice time a game — sixth-most on the team and third among defensemen behind Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's also tied for third in the league with 101 hits this season. 

It's easy to forget about Hagg on a team full of young talent. But that's the way he likes it. 

"No, I love to go under the radar," Hagg said. "I don’t like the attention so much. It’s hard to disappear when you’re playing in the NHL, I guess."

On the ice, it's easy to miss Hagg. He doesn't have the flashy moves of Gostisbehere or the puck-moving skills of Provorov. He just goes out there and quietly gets the job done, at both ends of the ice. And for a rookie D-man, going relatively unnoticed at times can be a good thing. It means he's not making mistakes. 

While he may go unnoticed by fans, he has certainly stuck out in the mind of Dave Hakstol.

“He doesn’t fly under the radar in our dressing room," Hakstol said. "He’s been a good player and just by nature of some of the injuries and with [Radko Gudas'] suspension — with a couple veterans out of the lineup — he’s logged some minutes that maybe we didn’t predict quite this early, but by necessity, he’s been in these situations and he’s handled them well.

"Those are challenging minutes and assignments for a young defenseman. But Hagger has handled all of those things with pretty good poise. So he’s learning, he’s giving us good minutes and he keeps pushing to improve his game, so those are all positive things.”

With Andrew MacDonald's injury and Gudas' suspension, Hagg has been forced into playing more — and tougher — minutes than Hakstol originally anticipated for the rookie. But the coach has shown in the past — take Provorov's ascension to No. 1 D-man for example — that a player's age or experience will not limit minutes earned on the back end. 

Hagg has been a constant on the Flyers' blue line all season, and it's time to start appreciating his play as he continues to develop into a sturdy, top-four defenseman. 

Mr. 300
Michael Raffl will play in his 300th NHL game tonight and it's a special one for the 29-year-old. 

In 2012-13, Raffl was playing in Sweden when the Flyers took a chance on the Austrian.

Playing in the NHL at all seemed like a farfetched idea to him then, and 299 games later, it still doesn't feel real.

“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it," Raffl said. "It’s part of my life now. I think it’s awesome and I’m very proud of that."

This season — Raffl's fifth — had the appearance that it may have been his last. At least for the first 21 games. Playing mostly on the fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, Raffl didn't record a single point in that span. 

“I was trying not to change my game too much, to be honest," Raffl said of his early struggles. "I know the points weren’t there the first 20 games and I was struggling offensively, but I thought I played very well. I was trying to help the team win one way or the other. Now it’s clicking and I’ll try to ride the wave. Yeah, it’s more fun like that, for sure."

Over his last 10 games, Raffl has eight points — five goals and three assists — including five points during the Flyers' four-game win streak. It's no coincidence that the two overlap. 

Raffl's resurgence came with Hakstol's decision to break up the team's top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Now on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Voracek, Raffl has looked like the 2014-15 player that scored a career-high 21 goals. 

“It’s been a benefit for us," Hakstol said of Raffl's hot streak. "Raf is a guy that’s scored 20 goals in this league so we know that he can contribute and he can help offensively, and I think he was pretty frustrated early on by not being able to find the back of the net. His continued good play has obviously created different opportunities for him and with the line that he’s with, right now with Fil and Jake, he’s going to get some of those scoring opportunities and in the past couple weeks, he’s made good on them and it’s been a huge boost for our team."

The Flyers take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference Thursday night — the Buffalo Sabres. But with points in their last four games (2-0-2), the Flyers can't afford to take the Sabres lightly. 

“No, we can’t look past anyone and I think where we are at, we gotta bring everything we’ve got," Raffl said. "It’s going to take a lot and I think it’s way harder to play against teams that are down there."

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).