For a number of reasons, I’m not a professional athlete. So maybe I’m the wrong person to ask here. But I can never even imagine how tough it is for players and teams to keep their minds on the task at hand when something happens that’s not only far out of the ordinary for a hockey game, but is downright scary to everyone who sees it happen.
The final 52-plus minutes of tonight’s 3-0 Flyers win — their fourth straight victory, in a win streak that has come just a little too late to actually mean anything — were certainly overshadowed by what happened in the first period, as Michal Neuvirth collapsed in his crease and was eventually taken off the ice and to Pennsylvania Hospital, where he is thankfully awake and alert. Colin McDonald hinted at the end of the first period that Neuvirth had been feeling ill before the game began (possibly in the same way as Steve Mason, who did not dress tonight because of illness), and it’s likely that whatever took him out of the game was related to that injury.
It was a feeling similar to that of Game 4 of last season’s playoff series against the Capitals, in which Scott Laughton took a spill into the boards and remained immobile on the ice for several minutes later. Everything else came to a halt as the players tried to process what was going on in front of them, and when the two teams did get going with the game, it still seemed like it took a while for them to shake off what they’d just seen.
But again, they’re the pros that are somehow able to put that aside and keep playing the game. And to the Flyers’ credit, they ended up playing a pretty solid game — surely their best game against the Devils this season, while picking up a win that (for at least one more day) keeps the Flyers mathematically in the playoff race. (Note that this does not mean that they are really in the playoff race. They are not.)
There was a lot of good to come from the Flyers’ play tonight. They were generally in control of the flow of the play for most of the game, outshooting New Jersey 41-32 and rarely having to deal with extended shifts in their own end. Offensively, much of the help today came from the power play, which continued its strong play of the past few games by scoring twice. Jordan Weal, whose strong play night-in and night-out is becoming more and more of a given with each passing game, had one of those two goals, marking his fourth straight game with a goal. In addition, Brayden Schenn made a heads-up play off a Claude Giroux shot that ricocheted off the back boards to open up the scoring on a first-period power play, giving the Flyers a lead they’d never relinquish.
And there was help from some unexpected sources. Colin McDonald, called up this morning to the slight surprise of some, made the most of his limited ice time (7:30 of ice time, to be exact), posterizing Devils defenseman Andy Greene before sliding the puck past Cory Schneider in the first period. And Anthony Stolarz, who this morning was preparing to play for the Phantoms tonight, slid right into Neuvirth’s place following his incident and performed admirably against the rooting interest of his childhood, stopping all 26 shots he faced on the evening.
(In a very nice gesture, Dave Hakstol attempted to send out Eric Semborski, the emergency goalie who they had around before the game in case Stolarz hadn’t shown up on time, with 24 seconds remaining in the contest. Unfortunately, due to rules about emergency goalies, they were not allowed to do this. The NHL is no fun.)
On top of all of this, there was some stupid stuff, because games between these two teams tends to see some stupid stuff happen. New Jersey’s Blake Coleman shoved Sean Couturier into Cory Schneider, only to immediately try and fight Couturier for doing the thing that he had made him do. Dalton Prout threw a cheap-shot on Radko Gudas as Gudas (who didn’t play again after the hit) was trying to head towards the bench, getting himself a major penalty, an ejection, and a fight with Wayne Simmonds. And then, 19 seconds later, Dale Weise got a major and an ejection of his own for hitting Kyle Palmieri into the boards late. There was a lot of emotion in this one, sometimes to the point of idiocy.
But all in all, the game ended with the Flyers scoring more goals than the Devils did, and in and of itself that’s pretty rare, so let’s just celebrate the fact that we were able to see that. (That and a seemingly healthy Michal Neuvirth, which is probably what matters most here.)
Up to New York City tomorrow night to face the Rangers. Here’s to beating them too. Go Flyers.