With Season on Brink, Flyers Throw Michal Neuvirth Into Fire

VOORHEES, N.J. - Michal Neuvirth has played just one game in the last 34 days.

It came in the regular-season finale on April 10 when there was a combined 18 healthy scratches, 12 of which were by the opposition.

Now, against the NHL's best team, he must stave off elimination for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Talk about thrown into the fire.

"I think that's a challenge for him," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "We're at playoff time and playoff level, but ultimately, Michal, he's a consummate pro. Each time he's had a little bit of time between starts, he's been able to have himself ready and prepared to go in and play at his highest level, and that's what we'll look for today."

After Wednesday's morning skate at Flyers Skate Zone, the Flyers said Neuvirth will start in net over Steve Mason for tonight's Game 4 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Capitals (see game notes).

More than they've ever been, the Flyers are in need of a spark - any shape or form. They trail Washington 3-0 in the series and have been outscored 12-2 after a messy 6-1 Game 3 loss on Monday night when they imploded in the third period.

So, in comes Neuvirth, ready or not. The 28-year-old says he is and feels good about his game.

Most of all, he loves the challenge.

"Just have to focus on the first period and give everything we have," Neuvirth said. "Enjoy the moment."

Neuvirth won his second-most games ever this season, going 18-8-4 with a career-best 2.27 goals-against average. A corkscrew was thrown into it all when he went down with a lower-body injury that held him out from March 19 to April 7.

"He's been playing very well for us this year," Claude Giroux said. "He likes to play in big games. Tonight's a big game and I'm pretty excited to see him play."

Hakstol made it clear the decision was not indicative of Mason's play. The Flyers simply needed some changes, just like their lines (see skate update).

Mason is 0-3-0 in the series with a 4.09 goals-against average and .852 save percentage. After Game 2's blooper-reel goal and Game 3's nightmare third period, Mason's psyche has taken some serious punches.

"It's not a negative to Mase," Hakstol said. "It's about winning Game 4. Pure and simple."

How did Mason receive the news?

"Great," Hakstol said. "Obviously he wants to play, but he's a great teammate. There's absolutely no question there. In terms of his reaction, [it's] whatever's best for the team. Quickly then turning the page and going about doing his work and making sure he's ready to do his job tonight."

Wayne Simmonds felt the Flyers forced Hakstol's hand, putting Mason and Neuvirth in the positions they are now.

"I think obviously this is a change to wake the guys up in front of Mase," Simmonds said. "I thought Mase was playing well for us, we weren't doing our job in front of him. Change the goalie and it's up to us to do the job."

Neuvirth, who played parts of six seasons with the Capitals from 2008-14, has 10 career postseason games, nine with Washington.

The familiarity is there.

"I think I know them a little bit, they know me," Neuvirth said. "For me, I'm just going to play my game and try to give my best.

"Great team and I know a lot of the guys. Still, it's playoffs and it's the best time of the year. I can't wait for the game."

From all the watching, Neuvirth has learned a lot.

The question is will it be enough tonight, with the season at stake?

"Their special teams, it's the biggest difference," Neuvirth said. "We've got to stay out of the box and don't give them any opportunities. Because when they don't score on the power play, they still get momentum from it.

"You see a lot from the bench and I have been watching closely. They've had a lot of looks on the power play, so I've been watching them closely, and I think I know what they're going to do."

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