Thursday April 21st, 2016

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Their backs to the wall, the desperate Flyers capitalized on a strong opening period and rode that momentum to a 2-1 win, avoiding an early first round exit. 

The series now stands at 3-1 in favor of the Capitals.

For a team that was in the lottery conversation early in the regular season, this Game 4 victory personified the pesky Flyers, who went 16-6-3 in their final 25 games down the stretch. They got a strong effort from goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who made his first start in the series, and weathered a relentless third period attack by the Capitals to win their first game of the series and gather some momentum.

Game 5 is on Friday night in Washington.

Here are three thoughts on Wednesday’s game:

Flyers capitalize on a great start

There has been only one sweep in the first round of the last three Stanley Cup playoffs and you get the feeling that fans missed their best chance to see one in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. After a dispiriting 6–1 loss in Game 3, the Flyers were left for dead by many fans and writers alike. 

It was hard to believe that a goalie change would do much to change Philadelphia's fortunes against the Washington juggernaut, but Neuvirth was outstanding while stopping 31 of 32 shots. Is it enough to launch a seemingly insurmountable comeback? It’s too early to tell but you have to imagine that the Flyers have a lot more confidence now. 

One reason why Philly still has a puncher's chance: hot starts. Through four games, the Flyers have outshot Washington 53-30 in the first frame. As the games have gone on, the Capitals have gotten better but not so on Wednesday night. Washington looked listless through the second period, after which it was trailing 2–0. And unlike in the previous games, the Flyers kept their cool and avoided taking costly penalties. They went to the box only twice in this one and killed off both of the Capitals' power plays. And though they were outshot 13-4 in the third, they maintained their discipline and refused to yield the game-tying score to Washington's high-powered attack.

Gostisbehere has his game of the series 

On his 23rd birthday, the rookie defenseman played with the poise of a cagey veteran. His rocket from the point in the first period was the Flyers’ first power play goal of the series. (It also featured forward Wayne Simmonds going somewhere he hasn’t been enough: in front of the net, screening Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. The play drew a coach's challenge by Washington's Barry Trotz, who thought Simmonds made contact witH Holtby, but the goal stood.) Gostisbehere also gained the zone to start the sequence that led to Philly's second goal, by Andrew McDonald at 3:51 of the second.

Some of the Flyers' main offensive threats, including Claude Giroux, have largely been silent this series, but Gostisbehere stepped up in Game 4. He led the Flyers in shots (5) and drove the play all night. If Philly is to extend the series at least another game, it will need more efforts like this.

Scary moment in the first 

NHL
Flyers’ Laughton taken off on stretcher after crashing into boards

Late in the first period, Flyers forward Scott Laughton crashed into the end boards after being pushed by Capitals defenseman John Carlson. Laughton’s head, neck and back all appeared to hit the wall and he lay on the ice for minutes afterwards. A stretcher was brought out to take him off to the hospital.

It was an incredibly scary scene, one that reduced an otherwise raucous Wells Fargo Center to silence.

Yes, the Flyers won, but of more importance is that the 21-year-old forward’s long-term health is not in jeopardy after Wednesday night’s game. Injuries like Laughton’s are the kind of ugly elements that remain part of a fast, full contact game. As he lay on the ice, my thoughts went out to him and his family. Here’s hoping we get good news about his health very soon.

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