Andrew MacDonald (center) celebrates with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The Philadelphia Flyers were stingy defensively in the first two periods and stayed discipline throughout Game 4 to pick up a 2-1 victory and avoid a sweep by the Washington Capitals. A similar effort paired with a win in Game 5 by the Flyers could put all the pressure on the Capitals.
The first round of the post-season won’t see any series end before Game 5, and the Philadelphia Flyers made sure of that Wednesday with a crucial 2-1 win to avoid elimination and stave off the sweep.
The Flyers again clicked early, and in many ways Philadelphia’s Game 4 victory was what one would have expected from Dave Hakstol’s team in Game 3 when the Flyers returned to the Wells Fargo Center for their first game since the passing of owner Ed Snider. Less than six minutes into the game, rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere got on the board with a blast from the blueline on the power play to put Philadelphia ahead, but it was a goal from an unexpected source that gave the Flyers their first win of the series.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who was buried in the AHL earlier in the season, absolutely hammered a pass from Wayne Simmonds to put the Flyers up 2-0. MacDonald's second career playoff goal marked the first time all series Philadelphia scored twice in a single game.
It’s fitting it was a pair of defensemen, Gostisbehere and MacDonald, who scored to help Philadelphia extend the series. One key for the Flyers in Game 4 is that they were defensively stingy and made it difficult for the Capitals to get an inch of space. Really, it wasn’t until the third period that Washington showed any offensive spark. But more than their improvements on defense, it was Philadelphia’s dedication to discipline that made the biggest difference. The Flyers fell apart in Game 3 against the Capitals because they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box, but Philadelphia wasn’t about to let undisciplined play hand Washington the first-round sweep.
In Game 4, the Flyers gifted the Capitals only 2:28 of power play time. Compare that to the 12:48 of time Washington spent on the man advantage spread across eight power plays in Game 3 and it’s not hard to see why or how the Flyers were able to finally slow down the Capitals’ attack. It took until the third period for the high-flying Capitals to direct more than 10 shots on goal in a period, and nearly 43 minutes passed before Washington cracked to cracked Philadelphia netminder Michal Neuvirth. And when the Capitals were in desperation mode, down a goal with time winding down, Washington shooters had little luck getting the puck to the net. That’s a vast improvement from the 6-1 drubbing Philadelphia took Monday night, and it gives the Flyers a sliver of hope going forward.
The play of Neuvirth shouldn’t go unheralded when it comes to Philadelphia’s Game 4 victory, either. Tasked with his first start of the playoffs, Neuvirth stopped 31 of 32 shots that came his way and it took a scrambled play at the front of the net for the Capitals to break the Flyers goaltender’s blank slate. But even with Neuvirth’s solid play, it didn’t feel like Washington once forced him to make an exceptionally challenging save. Neuvirth’s best stop of the game — surprise, surprise — may have come on the Capitals’ only full two-minute power play of the game when he made a pad stop on Alex Ovechkin.
The task now for Philadelphia will be to replicate this effort — more specifically their play from the first two periods — and stretch this series, and season, one game further. And if the Flyers can turn in an equal or better performance and win Game 5, some doubt may start to creep in for the Capitals.