WASHINGTON - When the Flyers recalled Colin McDonald after Game 2 last weekend, it looked like changes were coming to their forward lines.
The rest of the "Black Aces" weren't called up until after the Lehigh Valley season, which ended last Sunday, the same day McDonald, 31, was sent back to join the big club in Philadelphia.
The Flyers had a noticeable size disadvantage in Game 1 and 2 in the nation's capital. And McDonald, at 6-2 and 220 pounds, certainly packs some size. Adding to that, the veteran winger has playoff experience, including two games against Washington last year while playing for the New York Islanders.
"I knew there might be a good chance for me to play because of the way the series has gone, because of my playoff experience, because of my experience playing against these guys last year in the playoffs," McDonald said. "Thinking about all that, I thought there might be a chance for me to get in."
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Of course, an injury to Scott Laughton and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's suspension in Game 4 forced Flyers coach Dave Hakstol's hand a bit. But it's fair to wonder whether the first-year head coach may have made a move to get McDonald into the lineup at some point in this series, injuries and suspensions aside.
With Bellemare out Wednesday, McDonald joined the fourth line, at least until Laughton went down, and brought a physical advantage to the line, which had Ryan White at center to start the game. White was second to Radko Gudas in hits during the regular season, racking up 208 in 73 games, good for 2.85 per game.
In 14:19 of ice time Wednesday, McDonald racked up seven hits while playing effectively on the forecheck. The hits were all clean, too, as the Flyers stayed disciplined and out of the penalty box.
Wayne Simmonds enjoyed it.
"I watched him one shift [Wednesday] night, I think he hit like five guys," Simmonds said. "It's pretty impressive he just kept on trucking."
With Bellemare back for Game 5, McDonald will be bumped up to the third line Friday night, replacing Laughton on a group that features Nick Cousins at center and Matt Read on the left wing. McDonald brings size and physicality to the Flyers' shortest unit in height. Though Laughton plays with an edge, he's generously listed at 6-1 and weighs less than 200 pounds.
If the Flyers have any shot at getting back into the series, it may come down to how effective those third and fourth units are, both physically and how they play in all three zones. Washington's back end is highly-skilled, so getting a body on them was crucial to success.
"You let them go untouched they're going to embarrass you," White said of Washington's defensemen.
Still, though, a balance needs to be found on the line McDonald says he toes so closely, the one between a clean hit and a penalty. The one that puts Washington's lethal power play (8-for-19 in the series) to work or the one that keeps the Flyers at 5-on-5, where play has been "even," according to Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.
"I think it's just trying to keep your emotions in check," White said. "It's such a high-emotion game out there right now where you're battling against the same guy every night. You kind of learn to hate the guy. But, at the same time, you gotta be smart and take that extra whack here and there and just try and toe that line on the positive side. I thought the guys did a good job last game and it's going to be a whole new test tonight."
A whole new test indeed. But maybe the momentum has changed?
"Whenever you get that win it's back in your favor," McDonald said.
Time will tell.