Neuvirth made a playoff career-high 44 saves and Ryan White (above) scored a second-period goal that deflected off the skate of a defenseman as the Flyers avoided elimination in their first-round series against the Capitals with a 2-0 victory.
“Neuvy stole us a game,” Flyers center Ryan Gagner said.
Despite being outshot 44-11, the Flyers closed the margin in the best-of-7 series to 3-2 with Game 6 on Sunday in Philly. It was the Flyers second straight win after falling behind in the series 3-0.
“We outshot them the first two games and we lost, so I’ll take it this way,” Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek said. “I’d rather have five shots and win the game than have 40 shots and lose.”
Neuvirth had one of the most outstanding playoff performances in recent memory, holding the fort with the Capitals outshooting the Flyers 30-5 over the last 40 minutes before Chris VandeVelde put the icing on the victory with an empty-net goal with 30.8 seconds left.
“It’s a great game by him from start to finish,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “He did his job and made some huge saves for us while we were under pressure for some good time periods in that hockey game.”
In the waning seconds of a second-period power play, Gagner fired a shot from the blue line that got caught in a nest of bodies in front of the net. White corralled the puck and attempted to pass, and his effort ricocheted right off the skate of Washington’s Taylor Chorney into the open net to make it 1-0 Philly at the 7:52 mark of the frame.
“They got a little bit of a lucky goal,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “You put the puck to the net and sometimes it goes in. It was a really nothing play. They got a goal — it doesn’t matter how they get it, but they got one and we didn’t get any.”
That’s because the Flyers leaned heavily on Neuvirth, who didn’t play in the first three games of the series, but has been impressive in the last two, shutting down the Capitals’ explosive offense while facing a flurry of shots.
“I felt good right from the start,” Neuvirth said. “I had a really good pre-game skate and was pretty confident going into the game.”
Washington goalie Braden Holtby took the loss while making just nine saves on the night as the Capitals lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season.
After a lackluster start in Game 3, the Capitals said they wanted to be the aggressors early on, and they did just that 10 seconds into the game when forward T.J. Oshie dropped his gloves and squared off with Flyers center Brayden Schenn, whom Washington felt delivered several dirty hits in the prior contest.
“We were really unhappy with a play that he made on (Evgeny Kuznetsov) last game, and so, it had to be done,” Oshie said.
With that out of the way, Washington spent most of the first period killing penalties with relative ease, helped greatly by the Flyers’ struggling power-play unit, which went 0-for-6 on the night and is now 1-for-21 in the series.
But the Capitals could not figure out Neuvirth, their former teammate, and dropped to 1-9 in their last 10 elimination games. Now, the pressure shifts to Washington, which has a history of playoff failure that the organization is trying to shake.
“You take a deep breath and you go right back at it,” Trotz said. “I’ll trust our game. If we throw that game out next game or we have to do it in Game 7, I’ll trust that game. I think our odds are pretty good.”