Following a horrific Game 3 performance that served as the worst loss thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was do or die for the Philadelphia Flyers as they entered Game 4 against the Washington Capitals Wednesday night. Goaltender Steve Mason, who was instrumental in the Flyers’ late season playoff push, has been less then stellar in the postseason giving up 4.09 goals per game with a save percentage of .852. As a result, head coach Dave Hakstol made the decision to swap netminders.
“I think it’s a good time for a change for our team going into this game,” coach Dave Hakstol said after the team’s morning skate. “I believe Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) is the guy who can go in for us in this situation and do a great job.”
Hakstol also chose to move second-line center Brayden Schenn to left wing on the top line ,while Michael Raffl shifted to center the second unit with Sam Gagner and Schenn’s replacement, Jakub Voarcek. Voracek, who has struggled to score this season, had no qualms with the demotion, “Something had to be done; we’ve scored two goals in three games.”
Hakstol’s moves paid off in spades as Neuvirth stoned the Capital’s explosive offense, stopping 31 of 32 shots on goal, while Schenn recorded the secondary assist on Andrew MacDonald’s game-winning goal in the second period.
Philadelphia was also able to win the special teams battle for the first time in the series. “That was one of the reasons that we won the game,” Neuvirth said. “That was our goal. And we didn’t take any stupid penalties. Just a great team effort for 60 minutes. That’s the way we’ve got to play.” Penalties had been detrimental to the Flyers in the first three games, but they equaled Washington in Game 4 with only two trips to the sin bin, while also scoring their first powerplay goal of the season.
What stands out about the victory is not just Hakstol’s ability to recognize that changes needed to be made, but being aware enough to make the decisions that would provide the most benefit. As a rookie coach in the NHL, Hakstol has proven his ability throughout the season and has found a way to impact the postseason as well. He has a bright future in the league and it will continue on Friday as the Flyers travel back to the Verizon Center for a must-win Game 5.