On November 3rd, the Philadelphia Flyers went into Rexall Place in Edmonton and were outshot 19-2 in the first period by the lowly Oilers. The Flyers club that played that night barely looked like an NHL team, let alone one capable of battling its way into the playoffs and taking the Presidents' Trophy winners to six games.
Over the course of the 2015-16 season, the Flyers under Dave Hakstol slowly developed into a force to be reckoned with. Built upon an aggressive forecheck, tight defense in the neutral zone, and stellar goaltending, Philadelphia became a team with few statistical weaknesses by the final 25 games of the year. But even their high effort play and strong execution could not totally erase the simple fact that the roster had a number of glaring holes. Matched up against a loaded Washington Capitals team, those flaws were finally too much for the team to overcome.
The game was tight throughout, but in the end, Philadelphia simply could not generate enough pressure or scoring chances to put a puck behind Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and fell by a 1-0 score in Game 6. Nicklas Backstrom scored the game's only goal immediately after the Flyers had killed a Washington power play, and that proved to be all the margin that his team needed. Michal Neuvirth was again spectacular, making 28 saves, but his performance was not enough for the Flyers to stave off elimination. The Capitals, by virtue of their 4-2 series victory, will now face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 while Philadelphia's offseason officially begins.
Just like in Game 5, the Capitals began the contest all over the Flyers in the defensive zone, stifling Philadelphia breakouts and using the extra attack time to pepper Neuvirth with shots. But the Flyers slowly shifted the direction of play, led by a punishing offensive zone forecheck. Colin McDonald's monster hit on Andre Burakovsky was just one of many collisions that the Flyers initiated with the goal of extending attack time and generating shots on Holtby.
But the story of the first period, just as it was in Game 5, was Michal Neuvirth. Three Flyers penalties (including a two-man advantage late) gave the Washington power play an opportunity to flex its muscles, and it was the heroics of Neuvirth that kept the game scoreless through 20 minutes. He stopped all 12 Capitals shots in the first, and while Washington had to be aware that they had the better of play in the period, the spectre of Neuvirth stealing yet another game loomed large.
The Flyers were giftwrapped their biggest chance to take control of the game via a poor call by the officials early in the second period, as they whistled Nicklas Backstrom for a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Ryan White despite the fact that teammate Chris VandeVelde was actually the one who initiated the contact. And after Matt Niskanen quickly took a hooking penalty just five seconds into the ensuing power play, Philadelphia found themselves with nearly a full two minutes with a five-on-three opportunity. But the Capitals held strong, keeping the Flyers to the perimeter and getting big stops from Holtby whenever a shot did get through.
The power play pressure ended after Ryan White was called for a holding the stick penalty, eventually giving the Capitals a chance with the man advantage as well. The Philadelphia penalty kill would hold, but just four seconds after White exited the box, Backstrom beat Holtby after a fantastic play from Alexander Ovechkin to keep the puck in at the blue line and spring an odd-man rush down low. That made the score 1-0, and just like that, the Capitals merely needed to stymie the Flyers' offensive attack if they wanted to clinch the series in Philadelphia.
To the Flyers' credit, they pushed back hard in the third, especially as the game clock winded down. They blasted 24 shot attempts in the direction of Holtby, outshooting the Capitals 13-7 with their season on the line. But as was a consistent theme in the series, Washington mostly kept Philadelphia to the outside, allowing the Flyers just two high-danger scoring chances in the final session. Whenever they did start buzzing in the offensive zone, the ever-present Holtby was always there to make the key stop.
When the final buzzer sounded and the Capitals rightfully went to mob their goaltender, the Flyers congregated around Neuvirth, who was marvelous in all three of his appearances in the playoffs. Then, the team left the ice for the last time in the 2015-16 season, to a well-deserved standing ovation from the Wells Fargo Center faithful.
Questions to Answer:
- How does Michal Neuvirth follow up his stunning performance from Friday night? Neuvirth was fantastic, yet again. He was at his best during a late first period five-on-three opportunity, making multiple big stops. The Flyers were yet again outshot and outplayed on the whole, but their goaltender nearly made up the difference.
- It would be tough for the Flyers' skaters to have a much worse game than they did last time out, but how much better are they this time? Definitely an improved performance, but the Capitals still got the better of play through the game's first forty minutes. Philadelphia pressed hard late, as is to be expected with their season on the line, but simply could not break through on the scoreboard.
- Up and down (mostly down) series for the power play. Today? The power play's inability to capitalize was the biggest reason for today's loss, especially because they were given an extended five-on-three opportunity and could not put one past Holtby.
- Pressure is all on the Caps at this point. Do they come out poised and confident or are they on their heels for most of the game and unravel at the first sign of adversity? The Capitals outshot the Flyers 12-5 in the first period, and certainly did not look like a team in a choking situation.
- We heading back to D.C. for one more? Unfortunately, no. A fun season ended today in Philadelphia.
Comment of the Night:
Thank you, boys. Give ’em hell next year.