Tonight could be the final game of the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2017-18 season.
After losing Game 4 by a final score of 5-0, they find themselves down 3-1 heading back to Pittsburgh. Surely they won’t be as embarrassing as they’ve been in the last few games, right?
Here are the five keys the Flyers need to follow to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and avoid elimination in Game 5.
Actually show up
The Flyers have been outscored 17-1 in the three games they’ve lost this series.
Read that number again. 17-1. The Penguins have scored 17 goals to the Flyers’ one.
That’s pitiful. They have failed to show up in every game except for Game 2, and it’s not indicative of a team that deserves to even be in the playoffs. Hell, it isn’t even indicative of a team that wants to be in the playoffs. The only thing you can hope the Flyers do is provide some pushback towards the Penguins.
If they can’t even do that, there will be some questions that need answers in the offseason.
Make key saves
For a short stretch in the first period on Wednesday, the Flyers were pressuring. The Penguins couldn’t seem to clear the zone, and the Flyers took advantage of that with some solid chances. The Flyers couldn’t score because of the combination of Matt Murray playing strong and the Flyers being unable to finish.
Then, the Penguins got one chance and scored.
Phil Kessel stretched to corral the puck, and his quick wrist shot pinballed around Brian Elliott’s pads before rolling off the post and in.
This angle shows how bad it really was.
While it was a great chance for Kessel, this is a time that you really need your goaltender to come up big. Elliott didn’t come up big.
The Flyers lost all momentum they were building right after that goal, and it felt like the Penguins had already won. No matter who starts tonight – Elliott or Michael Neuvirth – they need to make big saves, because the Flyers team will not win without them.
Don’t fold so quickly
Right after Kessel’s goal, the Flyers folded. That was that, the game was over, the Penguins had won. Any momentum the Flyers had was destroyed in one swift flick of the wrist.
It wasn’t just the momentum that was destroyed. It was the discipline, the heart, the rowdiness from the crowd that was only present for a few minutes. It was over.
The Flyers were only down two goals, but that didn’t matter. It hasn’t mattered at all this series. After the Penguins’ third goal in Game 3, the Flyers didn’t even try to play defense, leading to the Penguins’ fourth goal five seconds later. The Flyers folded well before that in that game. After a period with so many opportunities that they couldn’t capitalize on, the Penguins scored their first of the game, and there was no fire in the Flyers’ hearts after that.
It’s something we don’t see from this team very often. We usually didn’t see it with Flyers teams of the past. It’s the lack of effort that really gets to you, and the lack of fight to crawl back that seals it.
If they want to win Game 5, they can’t be fragile and fold after missed chances.
Defensive changes need to pay off
Robert Hägg was injured at the end of the regular season, and he hasn’t seen much game time since then. He’s been a healthy scratch all series, and it’s a bit mind boggling. Dave Hakstol has given reason for this, saying that he prefers a pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas. Whether or not that sounds crazy to most, that’s the way it is.
For tonight, Hagg will be put into the lineup, while Travis Sanheim will be scratched. From practice yesterday, it seems that Hagg will be paired with Andrew MacDonad while – you guessed it – Manning will be paired with Radko Gudas.
It’s pretty damning that Sanheim is being taken out of the lineup when he has only been on the ice for one five-on-five goal while Manning has been on the ice for four of them. That’s a cherry-picked stat that doesn’t really show how well a player has played, but it is indicative of the eye-test.
Sanheim has played well, and much better than Manning. The Flyers need offense, and Sanheim has the better offensive upside. Manning makes a lot of poor decisions on the ice, while Sanheim makes less so and needs playoff experience more than Manning, who might be suiting up for the final time in the Orange and Black.
Nonetheless, that is the decision Hakstol has made.
It’s unfair to shine a huge spotlight on Hagg, but if he can be the backline mixup the Flyers need to spark any type of comeback, he’s got to get to it tonight. He’s made extremely sound decisions defensively all season and has rarely been the bearer of Flyers fans’ anger. If he can provide a sense of calmness and execute breakouts nicely, his inclusion in the lineup will bode well for the Flyers’ chances of winning Game 5.
If this is the end, don’t be an embarrassment
As I’ve said in the first few keys, the Flyers have been embarrassing in these playoffs. Overall, they’ve been outscored 18-6. No goaltender has over a .857 save percentage in this series, and that mark is Petr Mrazek’s from Game 1. They’ve been shutout twice. Claude Giroux only has one point. Wayne Simmonds only has one point. Sean Couturier might not even play tonight, didn’t play in Game 4, and leads the Flyers with three points. There have been no lead changes in this entire series.
If the Flyers lose tonight, don’t go out in sorrow. Don’t make Flyers fans not even care to look forward to tomorrow.
Somehow, that rhyme isn’t even as poor as the Flyers’ effort this series.
The Flyers need to show some sort of effort tonight. If they are unable to, there will be a wave of criticism from now until October over their level of play. Deservedly so if they look like they have so far.
For the Flyers to win, they need to play hard, smart, and fast.
At the very least, play for your pride.
Game 5 is tonight at 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh.
(Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)