It's no surprise that Michal Neuvirth had to be at his best during the final 20 minutes of Philadelphia's 2–1 win over Washington on Wednesday night. The Capitals were the league's best third-period team during regular season. They scored a league-high 99 goals and allowed just 66. Their +33 differential also topped the charts.
Entering the final frame down two goals, the Caps came at Neuvirth hard. They outshot the Flyers 13-4, getting their lone goal of the contest from T.J. Oshie, along with a couple of Grade-A chances by Mike Richards and Tom Wilson.
It was a stark reversal from the slow start that saw the Capitals generate just two shots on goal in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I thought we made it a really easy night for him for the first two periods,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “The third period we came with the effort that we're going to need to have for 60 minutes in terms of getting to the interior, making plays, using our speed and playing fast. All of those things that we're capable of doing.”
Sluggish first periods have been a problem for the Caps all season long, so it's no surprise that they've continued here. Washington has been outshot 53-30 through four first periods by the Flyers and outscored, 3-2. It didn't hurt them through the first three games, but it did on Wednesday night. They may have missed their chance to sweep the Flyers by failing to take early advantage of Neuvirth, who was making just his second appearance since March 16.
It says a lot about this team that it consistently finds a way to overcome these poor starts, but it's a lousy habit that will need to be addressed in these playoffs. And probably sooner than later.
• The top priority for Philadelphia in Game 5? Stay out of the box. The Flyers won Game 4 because they offered their most disciplined performance of the series, limiting the East's No. 1 power play to just two chances and no goals. That was a massive improvement over the 17 opportunities—and eight goals—Philly allowed in the first three games.
Also important: getting a better effort out of the Mark Streit-Nick Schultz duo. That pairing got eaten alive in Game 4, and spent far too much time chasing their own tails in the defensive zone
• “I’ve scored enough goals," Jaromir Jagr said. "If I don’t score any [more], I’ll be happy with my hockey career. I don’t worry about it.”
Maybe he should. Four games into the 2016 playoffs, the Panthers' veteran star has seen his postseason goalless streak stretched to 35 games. And with this series against the Islanders down to a best-of-three, breaking out of this slump might make the difference between moving on or going home.
This scrutiny is familiar territory for Jagr. His inability to light the lamp during Boston's aborted Stanley Cup bid in 2013 (he went 0 for 22) was seen as a major reason why they fell short. While his defenders raved about his puck protection and presence around the net, his critics noted that he was paid to provide offense. And that didn't happen.
Perhaps sensing the building pressure, his Panthers teammates are already rallying around him. “He’s capable of doing anything," said Aleksander Barkov. "He’s a great player, is smart, protects the puck and has a great shot. He's just a great player.”
No one's questioning his greatness. But now he needs to be productive. Time for him to find a way.
• Tyler Seguin won't be in the Stars lineup tonight as they try to close out their opening-round series with the Wild. The absence will be his third straight and has everyone wondering when, or if, Dallas' second-leading scorer will get back on the ice.
The prognosis after this morning's skate isn't promising:
Tyler Seguin just walked out of AAC with not a heavy, but certainly noticeable limp. A band of tape wrapped around his right upper calf.— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) April 22, 2016
Coach Lindy Ruff is taking heat for allowing Seguin, who missed a month of action rehabbing an Achilles injury, to play in Game 2. But that decision was based on both clearance by team physicians and the player's own assessment of his readiness. You can't blame Seguin for pushing it—nobody wants him out there as badly as he does. That puts the spotlight on the medical staff. The Stars' doctors have always been highly regarded—their work saving forward Rich Peverley's life after he suffered a mid-game cardiac incident two years ago was exemplary—but this decision to release Seguin when he clearly wasn't ready will raise some hard questions. And they'll only get harder with each game he misses.