Seven points got away from the Flyers this season in the final two minutes of games. But what didn’t kill their playoff chances has made them stronger.
In February, they couldn’t have gotten lucky enough to win a game with just 11 shots. But to do it when facing elimination Friday night in Washington, they barely had to be fortunate at all.
Michal Neuvirth made excellent post-to-post saves on Jay Beagle shorthanded and Marcus Johansson’s rebound during the second period, when the seriously backed up Flyers survived a 16 to 2 shot advantage.
Spending that much time in your own end, you could have Bernie Parent, Jacques Plante and Martin Brodeur all in the net at the same time and still be asking to eventually give one up on a deflection. But that wasn’t the case down the stretch, when the Caps were coming just as hard and didn’t really get a good look on Neuvirth until Chris Vandevelde hit the empty net.
“We probably gave them too much time and space on the outside,” said Wayne Simmonds. “But I think the last ten minutes was a lot better than the middle of the game.”
Of course that would not have been possible without the cool and calm radiating outward from Neuvirth. “We didn’t start to panic like we might have in the past and he had a lot to do with it,” said GM Ron Hextall.
Bernie Parent finished off two Cups with shutouts. Hextall, his team outshot in all three Conference Final games the Flyers won in Montreal in 1987, had everything to do with eliminating the defending champions in six games. In 1985, Pelle Lindbergh almost singlehandedly held his teammates in Game Five at Quebec until they rallied with two goals in the third period to steal a 2-1 win. But in 48 seasons, there never before had been a playoff game the Flyers won when the ice was so tilted against them for almost 60 minutes as it was Friday night.
They couldn’t get a puck through center, yet, still got through it. From the start of the game -- really from the start of Game Four -- the Caps knew it was going to take a back-door play or a deflection to beat Neuvirth. Even more important, the Flyers performed like they knew it too.
They kept their sticks down – just the one penalty by Ryan White in the third period – and their hearts out of their throats, looking in the last 10 minutes especially, like the calmest guys in the house. This is not supposed to be one of the league’s better defenses. Tell that to the mighty Capitals after scoring one goal in the last two games.
Radko Gudas is trading body blows with Ovechkin. Nick Schultz is taking sticks in the face and puck after puck in the shins with a smile. Andrew MacDonald was a different guy after he came back from Lehigh Valley for good and seems to be getting even more reliable by the game.
On Friday night the forwards were where they needed to be for support. The decisions were good ones. The Flyers got the winner in Game Five on a happy bounce, but they really won the game on the trust in each other they built through the season.
“I know we got outplayed,” said Claude Giroux. “In the past I don’t think we would have got that one.
“When teams were all over us, we would start changing stuff and playing a different way.
“(In Game Five) we stuck with it, defended hard. We understood what we had to do to win a game 1-0.”
The Flyers also understand that, having basically rope-a-doped the powerful Caps two consecutive games, they don’t dare try to win that way again Sunday. But going forward, to Game Six, to a Game Seven, to the next round, to next year, these guys have learned how to survive a bad night, which is huge for this nucleus going forward.