By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> No matter how many times they examined it, player for player, skill for skill, the Flyers never changed one belief. Their No. 1 power-play unit should succeed, could succeed, would succeed.
Their problem: They were running low on time to supply the proof.
“Obviously, when their power-play is scoring and ours isn't, a little bit of frustration creeps in,” Brayden Schenn said Wednesday night, after the Flyers' 2-1 postseason-extending victory over the Washington Capitals. “We had a meeting this morning and talked about it. And it was nice to get that power-play goal early and give us confidence.”
Through the first three games of the first-round series, the Flyers had 13 power-play opportunities, none good for a goal. Yet while Dave Hakstol spent more than a day tinkering with his plans, juggling some lines, making a goaltender switch, he left the No. 1 power-play unit alone.
So there it was Wednesday, less than six minutes into an elimination game, when Capital Taylor Chorney was boxed for interference and onto the Wells Fargo Center ice rolled Schenn, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Forty-eight seconds later, Giroux slipped a pass to Gostisbehere at the point, the rookie defenseman fired, Braden Holtby blinked, the shot ricocheted off the post and in, and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead, and the series suddenly had a new feel.
The confidence, and that earlier meeting, had worked.
“Everyone was involved,” Schenn said. “We feel like we have a pretty good power play; we have two good power-play units. And special teams are crucial during the playoffs. The PP needed to step up tonight. And I thought we did a good job.”
Every game has its own dynamic. Game 4 was notable for its relative cleanliness, with just four total penalties called, two against each team. So it wasn't so much that the Flyers' power play had roared back to excellence. It was that it did so soon on a night when they needed to start answering some troubling questions.
“It was nice to get that power-play early,” Schenn said, “and give us some confidence.”
While the power-play at least provided a goal, the Flyers' penalty-killing, which had surrendered eight goals in 17 chances through the first three games, was an effective 2-for-2 Wednesday, when Hakstol ordered a more aggressive approach, particularly out front, on the point.
But the early success of their own power play seemed to make everything else work.
“For our power play, it took the heat off us a little bit,” Gostisbehere said. “We've gotten a lot of bounces and they really weren't going our way. So it was good to get on the board, early especially. And I think it set the tone for the game.”
Among the reasons for that was that neither the Flyers nor their coaches had lost confidence in the unit.
“We know how good our power play is,” Gostisbehere said. “It was 0-for-whatever-it-was. But we stuck with it. And if you do that, it's going to go in.”
The Flyers moved the puck with precision, crowded Holtby a little and trusted Gostisbehere, who has come to their rescue plenty of times this season, to help change the direction of the series.
“Obviously, traffic is important,” Schenn said. “Obviously, Ghost has that shot from the top, so we tried to utilize that. And he got one through. Obviously, it was a nice shot, crossbar and in.”
It was one goal in one game. But it bought the Flyers more time to show what they never doubted their power play, and the rest of their units too, could provide.