By Sam Bush

With regular Flyer goalie Steve Mason not available because of a family matter — he might still be shell-shocked after giving up four goals in eight shots Saturday night! — Michal Neuvirth made the most of his opportunity in the home opener last night at the Wells.

Neuvirth made 31 saves as the Flyers defeated the Florida Panthers 1-0 for coach Dave Hakstol’s first NHL win.

It was Neuvirth’s eighth career NHL shutout, his first since March 11, 2012, against the Toronto Maple Leafs as a member of the Washington Capitals.

It was the Flyers’ first 1-0 win in a home opener since their inaugural season, when they shut out the Pittsburgh Penguinson Oct. 19, 1967, at the Spectrum.

Brayden Schenn (above) scored for the Flyers (1-1-1). It’s the first time since 2011-12 that the Flyers haven’t lost the first three games of the season. They were 0-3-0 to begin 2012-13 and 2013-14, and 0-2-1 through three games last season.

Roberto Luongo made 32 saves for the Panthers (1-1-0). Nick Bjugstad led the Panthers with four shots on goal.

Neuvirth was the surprise starter after the Flyers announced in the morning that Steve Mason would be unavailable because of a family situation. The Flyers recalled Jason LaBarbera from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League to back up Neuvirth.

“I think we said it before the game, said it after the morning skates: We have all the confidence in the world in [Neuvirth],” Hakstol said. “He’s done a good job for us all the way from Day One through camp through preseason. He went out tonight and he played a heck of a game.”

Neuvirth played 53 minutes in relief of Mason in the Flyers’ 7-1 loss to the Panthers on Saturday at BB&T Center.

Neuvirth made 12 saves in the first period, including four while the Flyers killed a double minor after Michael Raffl was called for high sticking 1:17 into the game.

The Flyers entered the game 28th in the League on the penalty kill after allowing four goals in 10 times shorthanded in their first two games, including three in seven tries Saturday. They were 6-for-6 against the Panthers on Monday.

“Our killers were great,” said Flyers forward Sam Gagner, who had an assist in his first game of the season. “And [Neuvirth] was the calming influence back there making a ton of saves. It’s big to get that kill, and all the kills throughout the game were huge for us.”

Moments after killing the Raffl penalty, Gagner and Sean Couturier led a rush down the right side of the ice into the Panthers zone. Gagner carried the puck into the right circle and took a wrist shot that Luongo stopped. The rebound bounced through the crease to Schenn, who scored his second of the season at 5:57 of the first.

“Good play, little bit of creativity,” Schenn said. “A cross and drop and [Gagner] threw the puck to the net, and I happened to be there at the right time.”

Neuvirth did the rest; he was at his best in the third period when he made 14 saves. He stopped defenseman Alex Petrovic’s wrist shot from the top of the circles and then flopped back to stop Brandon Pirri from putting in the rebound with about 6 minutes to go.

“I just had a feeling it was going through and I looked behind me and I saw the puck,” Neuvirth said. “I just reacted and I got a little lucky, and it worked out.”

On the next shift, Jaromir Jagr took the puck behind the Flyers net, skated out through the left side and passed to Aleksander Barkov in front of the net, but Neuvirth kept the puck out.

The Panthers pulled Luongo for an extra attacker with 1:11 left. Their best chance came with 11.7 seconds left when Pirri had an open look from the right circle, but Neuvirth made a glove save.

“They came out hard and we didn’t play our best game,” Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “It happens. We knew it wasn’t going to be like the first game at home. But we still had some chances. Luongo kept us in the game all the way through. They always had a one-goal lead. We could have come back. One goal could have been good.”

Neuvirth was better, though. And with Mason’s availability for the Flyers’ next game, Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, in question, Neuvirth could get another test. If he gets the call to start, he’ll have some confidence, but he said it’s important not to make too much of what happened Monday.

“It means a lot,” Neuvirth said. “But it’s only one game. Tomorrow is a new day. I’m going to enjoy tonight, but tomorrow is a new day and we have work to do.”


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