In the middle of April 2018, the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves in an epic battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each team played exceptional hockey and although the Flyers fell to the Pens four games to two, the defending champions of the last two consecutive seasons would go on to be shut down in the second round by the Washington Capitals, who went on to win their first Stanley Cup.
Recently, I watched a replay of Game five and revisited the April 20, 2018, matchup between the Flyers and the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. The Flyers, who were down 3-1 in the series, beat the Penguins 4-2 and were able to force a Game six. It was the last playoff victory for the Philadelphia Flyers.
As the 2019-20 NHL season remains on pause, the Philadelphia Flyers (89 points) sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. With 69 games completed, the Flyers find themselves in a great position to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2018. As we all wait patiently and hope that the season and/or playoffs will resume at some point in the not-so-distant future, here are some important elements from that last playoff victory that could be keys to success for the Flyers in 2020.
Top Players Stepping Up
The Flyers’ marquee players left it all on the ice during Game five. They played with an obvious urgency. Claude Giroux made a statement and opened the scoring in the first period with a dazzling one-timer goal from the high slot. Jakub Voracek recorded one of his three series assists on the goal from the captain. Valtteri Filppula, who was playing on the first line with Giroux and Voracek due to a Sean Couturier injury, had a three-point night (one goal, two assists).
After suffering a “lower-body injury” during practice, Sean Couturier missed Game four. He returned to the lineup for Game five and scored what would end up being the game-winning goal with only 1:15 left in the third period. Couturier would follow that up with a five-point effort, which included a hat-trick, in Game six. It would later be reported that Coots had played those last two games of the series with a torn MCL.
After relieving Brian Elliott in Game four, Michal Neuvirth made his first start of the series against the Penguins in Game five. With the Flyers being down three games to one and the whole season on the line, the pressure was on for Neuvirth. He did not disappoint. The Czech netminder looked sharp throughout the night, stopping 30 of 32 shots against him. That included what may have been his best of the evening: a glove-save on Sidney Crosby with just 52 seconds left in the third period.
For the entire sixty minutes, the Flyers defense was absolutely punishing. They owned the Penguins; out-hitting them 48-25 and going five-for-five in penalty kills against the always-dangerous Pen’s power play. The Flyers were also not afraid to put their bodies on the line, accumulating a total of 14 blocks. Ten of their 18 skaters recorded at least one block in Game five.
The orange and black took away time and space and made it more difficult for Pittsburgh and their stars to put together any sort of offensive magic. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were kept off the score sheet. Sidney Crosby was held to just one assist on a Jake Guentzel goal in the second period.
Putting it all Together
Watching that last playoff victory, one can get a tiny glimpse of what the Philadelphia Flyers can be when firing on all cylinders in the postseason. When the three components listed above are included in the Flyers’ arsenal, success will find them.
Looking back on the unfinished 2019-20 season and the current team, I cannot help but feel like the parts that may have been unaccounted for in 2018 have been put in place in the last two years. On top of that, if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were to commence when the NHL season resumes, the Metropolitan Division second seed (Philadelphia Flyers) would face off against the third seed (Pittsburgh Penguins) in the first round. BRING IT ON!!
Mandatory Credit – © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports