The Washington Capitals advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 1–0 in Game 6 on Sunday.
The lone score of the game came from Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, who placed a perfect shot past Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth in the second period on a beautiful feed across the slot from Marcus Johansson.
Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who finished the regular season tying Martin Brodeur’s record for most wins in a season with 48, remained a strong presence between the pipes, helping the Capitals secure the lead and eliminate the Flyers.
Philadelphia tried for a final push when Neuvirth left the net to gave the Flyers a man advantage, but it wasn’t enough to fend of the Capitals.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
No easy series for the Caps
As the President’s Trophy winner headed into the playoffs as the clear favorite to advance far in the playoffs, the Capitals’ first series proved to be a challenge. In the usual brutal and physical play of the playoffs, Washington was forced to a Game 6, despite putting the Flyers in the brink of elimination after three games.
Philly and Washington traded plenty of hits—205 to 198— and occasionally punches. Caps forward T.J. Oshie slugged it out with Brayden Schenn, who has cross-checked Evgeny Kuznetsov in the knees during Game 4. Oshie missed time in the second period of Game 6 when he headed to the locker room after taking a hard hit from Schenn, but returned in the third period.
While the Flyers get a head start on healing up, the Capitals must begin preparations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who took down the New York Rangers in five games. For Washington, the physical game will be important in slowing down the Penguins, who rang up 21 goals against NYR goalies in the opening round.
Two-man advantages created excitement
With the stakes high, there were tense moments of five-on-three action during Sunday’s game.
In the final minute of the first period, the Capitals had chances to score with the two-man advantage. With the Wells Fargo Center fired up, the hometown Flyers were able to finish the period without damage. Alex Ovechkin, the league’s reigning goal scoring leader, fired at will, only to have his shot attempts blocked by Flyers defenseman sacrificing their bodies. Neuvirth made several big saves, and was left gasping for air as the final horn went off.
The Capitals would find themselves in a similar situation in the second period.
A controversial penalty call was made against Backstrom for a high stick that drew blood on White. As replays of the incident aired, it appeared it was White’s own teammate who committed the act.
Five seconds after Backstrom’s infraction, defenseman Matt Niskanen got sent to the box for hooking, setting up a two-minute five-on-three advantage for Philadelphia. The Capitals’ penalty kill persevered, holding the Flyers to just four shots, the 23rd time in 24 chances they'd kept their first round opponents at bay.
Flyers find themselves with a full net
After the Flyers coach Dave Hakstol decided to bench starting goalie Steve Mason with Philadelphia trailing 3–0 in the series, Neuvirth certainly made the most of the opportunity while facing his former team. He turned in stellar performances to keep the Flyers alive, making 31 saves in Game 4 and 44 in Game 5. Despite the Flyers falling short, the 28-year-old gave his team a chance to win Game 6 as well, turning aside 28 shots in the loss.
The Flyers potentially could face goaltending questions as they head into the off-season. In July, Philadelphia signed the Czech netminder to a two-year contract, while Mason was extended for three-years at $12.3 million back in January 2014. Philly rode Mason down the stretch run to the postseason, though Neuvirth’s performance will make for an interesting training camp battle next September.