Reprieve! Reprieve! Flyers Still Alive After Some Memorable Performances.


I don’t know about you, but I still can’t figure out the Flyers.

How do you get embarrassed in two home playoff games (and three of the first four) and then go on the road, into the home arena of the two-time defending champions, in an elimination game, and win?

And not only that, they did it with a lopsided special teams disparity against them, and came out on the plus side of that ledger. They did it with a new starting goalie, who gave up two bad goals, but also made several big saves – including one in the final minute – to protect the win. They did it with a much-maligned depth forward being thrust into a position where he was destined to fail – and he played the game of his career. They did it with their most important player in this series, somehow playing with an injury he shouldn’t be playing with, one that noticeably limits his skating and is definitely limiting his minutes, scoring the game-winning goal.

In other words, they did it against all odds.

The Flyers won Game 5 4-2, forcing a Game 6 back in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon. And although the Flyers will tell you they did it by playing their best game of the series, it wasn’t.

But, it was good enough. And enough things went right for them at the right times and in the right places to stay alive in this first round series.

And I’ve finally come to the realization, after 87 games, that this is what the Flyers do.

They thrive in the chaos that surrounds the line of demarcation between good and bad play.

There is very little wiggle room there – tread one step to far on the bad side of that line, and you either get blown out by a good team, or somehow lose to a team you should definitely beat.

Tread one step beyond in the other direction, and you pull off playoff miracles like Game 5, or win games you have no business in winning.

So, yes, I now understand why Flyers fans have a bit of a complex.

Game 5 gave you moments of both the good and bad side of that line, but there ended up being more good than bad, and now we have a Game 6. Welcome to the Flyers own version of chaos theory.

Let’s break it down:

1. Willis Reed

For those younger fans who have no idea who Willis Reed is, you can learn about his legend here, but for those of you that do, the Flyers version of Reed in Game 5 was Sean Couturier.

Couturier has an injury with which he should not be playing. Yet he did on Friday. Without getting into specifics – out of respect for Couturier – everyone knows it’s an injury somewhere below the hip, but the reality is, this kind of injury usually keeps players out of lineups in sports for weeks, not days.

And yet, there he was.

He played almost 17 minutes, which is pretty incredible, considering. He wasn’t on the top line, because he was going to be a step slow. He didn’t have his usual burst. He had a couple moments where you can see the sharp pain was affecting him.

And yet he kept on playing.

This is why hockey players are considered warriors by many. The guy has no business being on the ice, and yet, he’s still out there, doing anything he can to help his team win.

He was positionally sound, as he so often is, and he played on all five of the Flyers shorthanded situations (more on that in a bit). He didn’t get power play time, which I found curious – I understand he was on a bit of a minutes restriction, but I’d rather your best players play at the times you have the best opportunity to score and take a couple five-on-five shifts off to make up the difference – but, the Flyers only had one early power play chance the entire game, so that ultimately didn’t matter much.

But the biggest moment was the reason the Flyers are still in this series:

Just before this, Ivan Provorov took a nasty spill into the boards and hurt something in the upper body (looked like a shoulder, but I won’t speculate on severity). And Couturier went max effort just to keep the puck in at the blue line.

He got a fortunate redirect off of Brian Doumelin’s shin pad, but when you’re playing balls to the wall like Couturier was all game, you get those breaks.

This was the latest go-ahead goal in Flyers playoff history since Eric Lindros stunned the crowd at Madison Square Garden in Game 4 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals with a go-ahead goal with seven seconds remaining.

It was indicative of the boost that Couturier’s mere presence in the lineup provided. He wasn’t 100 percent – but he gave more than that. He was the epitome of a team-first player in Game 5, and his team thrived off that.

If there was a player that provided a boost when it was necessary, it was Couturier. The Flyers aren’t coming home Sunday for another game if not for him.

2. Ollie McClellan

You all have seen the movie Hoosiers, right? Right? If not… stop reading, and go find it now. But assuming 99 percent of you have, we had our very own Ollie McClellan situation in Game 5.

Michal Neuvirth started this game. He’s been riding the pine (primarily because of injury) almost as long as Ollie did.

It had been two months since Neuvirth played a full game and I’d venture to say that’s about how long it was in between the game where Ollie had to come off the bench and play with three teammates after Coach Norman Dale wouldn’t put Rade Butcher back in the game because he was a gunner and wouldn’t pass the ball four times, choosing to finish the game with four players and the time Ollie had to sub in during the regional final.

And like Ollie, made two critical errors, before saving his team’s bacon.

If Neuvirth played his best game, the Penguins wouldn’t have scored. Both goals were pretty awful – especially under the microscope of a playoff game.

I mean you can’t let this:

Or this:

… happen.

They’re both goals that should be stopped by the goalie. Nothing flukey. No screens. They weren’t bombs. They weren’t snipes. They were easy stops – and Neuvirth didn’t deliver.

After Jake Guentzel’s goal, like when Ollie dribbled the ball off his leg out of bounds, you kind of felt like the game was slipping away.

But, then Neuvirth had his Ollie moment.  Not sure if, during a timeout, somebody grabbed his gloved hand and said a prayer like Strap Purl did with Ollie before the foul shots (although Dave Hakstol and the Preacher Purl have some similar expressions:




So… maybe….

But, anyway, after Couturier’s goal, Neuvirth saved the game by stoning Sidney Crosby – yes, the best player in this series by far – with an incredible glove save:

That’s the kind of save that no goalie – not Brian Elliott, not Petr Mrazek and not Neuvirth, has really provided in this series until that moment.

But oh, what a moment.

If Crosby scores there, we’re likely headed to overtime. And, with Pittsburgh smelling blood at that point, we’re probably starting the post mortem this morning.

But we’re not. Because Neuvirth made the stop when he needed to do so.

I still don’t have great confidence in Neuvirth. He’s so hot and cold. He’s also incredible fragile. But with Elliott just not healthy enough and Mrazek turning out to be a bad acquisition, this may be the goaltending prayer the Flyers need to cling onto.

If Neuvirth can get hot – he can steal Game 6 – and then all bets are off on Wednesday.

If he can’t, Sunday could be ugly – or at the least disappointing.

Either way, Neuvirth bought the Flyers season at least another 48 hours.

3. Gene Kranz

After two lackluster games at home in Game 3 and Game 4, the Flyers captain told the gathered media at practice that the team would be back home for Game 6.

It was a bold predicition, at a dire moment, much like this:

Ed Harris as NASA flight director Gene Kranz has a lot of Claude Giroux in him – from the ginger look, to the quiet confidence in the face of extreme adversity.

Because, there was Giroux, making a playoff guarantee, after he, himself, had not scored a goal in his previous 11 playoff games.

But, like the prescient flight director, Giroux’s confidence shined through in his performance. For he gave the Flyers an early lead with this:

Let the refs know that he didn’t like the disparity in penalty calls between his team and the favorite sons in Pittsburgh:

Took this licking, and kept on ticking:

And then reminded every one of his teammates as they came off the ice, just how big their effort was:

It was a great response from a great player in the face of criticism that he hasn’t yet shown up in the playoffs. If Giroux can get going, things could get really interesting really quickly.

4. Teen Wolf

I mean, who else can you compare Val Filppula too?

Before Game 5, Filppula was Scott Howard. A non-descript, regular guy on the team who did next to nothing to make his team better.

But then, out of nowhere, he arrived on the top line of the Flyers last night in his hairy glory, fangs out, and posted his best game as a Flyer.

One completely unexpected shorthanded goal, two more assists for a three-point effort.

It was a decision that no one – and I really mean no one – thought would work. Dave Hakstol had to be completely out of his mind to put Filppula on the top line between Giroux and Jake Voracek.

The entire hockey world was flabbergasted when they heard that decision… and yet….

The cliche is always “Next man up” in sports, but this time, it was true. Filppula stepped into the spot the Flyers needed to fill with Couturier being managed because of his injury, and, holy smokes, he came through.

It was the first time the “veteran presence” response we always get from the coach rolled a seven on the craps table.

I’m not sure this can work over the course of three games (or however long this team survives) but for one game, it was the right button pushed by the coach.

5. Maximus

Provorov was a gladiator. He played 30:07 and the game didn’t go into overtime. He was on the ice for more than half the game – and he was sensational.

If the Flyers somehow do pull out this series, he could be the most unheralded MVP of a series in the history of the sport.

He is really the only reliable defensive defenseman the Flyers are putting on the ice. Andrew MacDonald has been OK this series, but other than that… that’s it. Provorov is being asked to do everything – and he does it well.

But… this happened:

That doesn’t look good.

The Flyers said they will update his injury today, but I guarantee that update is:

Upper body injury; day-to-day/game-time decision.

Some reporters said “he looked good” walking to the bus last night (he didn’t talk after the game because he was getting treatment) but really guys, how the hell can you tell how he looks by him walking to the bus in his suit when the injury is likely in the vicinity of his shoulder?

Knowing Provorov, he will take the same warrior mentality as Couturier and play, but if he is dinged up, that can’t bode well for the Flyers, since they count on him for so, so, so much.

In conclusion, this was a good game for the Flyers. It was a gutty win. It wasn’t great hockey, but it was good hockey. We finally had a game that felt like a playoff game. It was a little more physical (although I think the guy counting hits in Pittsburgh was having double vision – there weren’t THAT many).

But, Pittsburgh had bad games from Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. Evgeni Malkin was dominant, but didn’t score. If he keeps playing like that, he’s eventually going to get his, and Crosby is Crosby.

So, expect a better all-around effort from the Penguins too.

I’m not a believer. I don’t see them coming back in this series. And, I kind of felt this series would go six games from the jump (thus my prediction on the Snow the Goalie Podcast), but I’ve been wrong about the Flyers before, and they do seem to find a way, especially when everyone counts them out, so you never know….


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