PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux sat in the empty locker stall of teammate Scott Laughton after an emotional 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
Only a pair of Laughton's gloves were on the middle shelf. The rest of his equipment was at a local hospital.
Giroux sat in silence with a look of exhaustion and concern on his face. Only a couple of hours earlier, Laughton had been carried off the ice on a stretcher and transported to Jefferson Hospital. The team announced he would remain overnight for precautionary reasons.
With 3 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first period and the Flyers leading 1-0, Laughton was racing for the puck in the offensive zone with Capitals defenseman John Carlson. After the two made contact a few feet from the boards, Laughton went crashing horizontally and back-first at full speed into the end wall. His body flipped over, and he laid motionless and face down behind the Washington net. After the whistle, he briefly moved his legs and arms before a trainer tended to him. EMT members quickly brought out a stretcher, and it appeared Laughton was talking with them before he was taken off the ice. As he was taken off the ice, fans gave him a standing ovation and began to chant "Let's go Flyers."
It wasn't the kind of motivation the Flyers were looking for, though they made sure to win, not only for themselves but for their teammate.
"You don't like to see a player go down like that, especially when he wasn't moving and we weren't too sure what was going on," Giroux said. "We were obviously thinking about him."
"Scary," Flyers forward Ryan White said. "I know his folks are here tonight and I'm sure it was pretty scary for Bonnie, his mom, and we're hoping he's going to be all right. Our leaders did a good job the next few shifts going out there and just settling it back down for us and getting back into the swing of things. For Scotty, if anyone else was in the same situation, he would have pushed hard for us, so I'm glad we got that win for him."
The Flyers entered the game with a 3-0 series deficit and things looked bleak, especially against the Capitals, who wanted to end things. Now, the series shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Friday night at Verizon Center.
"This win feels pretty good right now, but we've got to keep playing like that," Giroux said.
Coach Dave Hakstol replaced Steve Mason in goal with Michal Neuvirth for Game 4. The Capitals didn't challenge Neuvirth early because of Philadelphia's strong defensive game, but Neuvirth made the timely saves, including a few in the third period, to secure the victory. He finished with 31 saves, and more important, he controlled the majority of his rebounds and did not allow second chances.
Neuvirth, a former Capitals goalie prospect, suffered a lower-body injury and was sidelined from March 19 to April 9. He played only the final game of the regular season, before Mason was given the nod to start the first round. The goalie change could have been made before Game 3, but Neuvirth entered Game 4 with confidence.
"I believe in myself," Neuvirth said after the win.
He admitted he felt a little rusty at the start of the game, but he was able to settle in and produce a big third-period performance. In the final 20 minutes, the Capitals created a massive push, outshooting the Flyers 13-4. The Philadelphia goalie made timely saves to secure the win.
"No, I wasn't worried," Neuvirth said. "I was just going minute by minute and I was enjoying the game. Guys did the job in front of me and we stick to our system and played a solid 60 minutes."
The Flyers claim they're not concerned with the early hole they've dug themselves in this series and they now live for another game. The news that Laughton might be OK, and the fact that Philadelphia posted a victory on home ice, gave the players a sense of relief. The players will attend the memorial service Thursday morning for late owner Ed Snider, who died last week.
Plenty of hockey royalty attended Game 4, including Wayne Gretzky, who is in town for Snider's service. As No. 99 walked past Flyers president Paul Holmgren after the game, Gretzky turned and said, "Great win."
Good thing -- it's what the Flyers needed to stay in the series.