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Neuvirth making his mark as Flyers welcome Avs

PHILADELPHIA -- For most of his 10-year NHL career, Michal Neuvirth has served as someone else's backup, but if he continues to play the way he did Thursday night, that may be about to change.

Coming off his second victory of the season -- a 33-save shutout over the St. Louis Blues -- Neuvirth, 29, is expected to make his second consecutive start on Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche visit the Wells Fargo Center.

Despite having a losing record, Neuvirth (2-3-0, 1.83 GAA, .941 save percentage) outplayed Brian Elliott (5-3-1, 3.11, .892) in the first month of the season and if his strong play continues, he could convince coach Dave Hakstol that he deserves more time between the pipes.

Neuvirth played more than 30 games in a season just three times in his NHL career, serving as a backup to Tomas Vokoun and Braden Holtby in Washington, Jhonas Enroth in Buffalo, Jaroslav Halak on Long Island and Steve Mason in Philadelphia.

Last March, the Flyers (7-6-1) re-signed Neuvirth to a two-year, $5 million contract. Four months later, they signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. Elliott started nine of the team's first 14 games, but Neuvirth allowed two or fewer goals in four of his five starts.

"They put a lot of pucks on me early and I just found my game," Neuvirth told the Philadelphia Inquirer after Thursday night's win. "Guys really stepped up, especially on the penalty kill, and they blocked so many shots."

Playing with four defensemen with fewer than 15 games of NHL experience, the Flyers blocked 20 shots -- 10 of them by 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov, who is emerging as a franchise blue liner.

The Avalanche (7-5-0) already have their No. 1 goalie.

Colorado is coming off Thursday night's 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, a game in which Semyon Varlamov made a career-high 57 saves. It was the most saves by a Colorado goalie in a regulation game and the most since Ron Tugnutt stopped 70 shots for the Quebec Nordiques in 1991, before the Avs were the Avs.

"He was phenomenal from start to finish," Colorado coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post.

"It's always easy to play with a lead," Varlamov said after improving to 5-3-0.

The Avalanche have been led offensively by Mikko Rantanen (four goals, 11 points), Nathan MacKinnon (three goals, 10 points) and Tyson Barrie (two goals, 10 points) and hold the third spot in the Central Division.

"In the games that we've won, especially through the first 40 minutes, we've been really good," Bednar said. "And if the other team poured it on a little bit, we did enough to survive when we defend a lead."

Thursday night's win marked the first time the Flyers played with such an inexperienced defense corps -- Robert Hagg (14 games), Travis Sanheim (10), Mark Alt (three) and Will O'Neill, who made his NHL debut.

The last NHL team to play with four defensemen under 15 games of experience was the Avalanche, who did so in a 4-2 loss vs. Calgary on Nov. 9, 2010.

Provorov's 10 blocks tied a franchise record for the category, which has been kept since 1997. Provorov was also credited with five hits, which led the club. He played 27:11, surpassing 27 minutes for the fourth consecutive game.

Flyers center Sean Couturier had two assists and now has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his last six games. Claude Giroux has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) on the season.

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