IT WAS the best of times. It was the worst of times.

It was a decision of confirmation for the Washington Capitals; it was a decision of desperation for the Flyers.

No one would have faulted Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby if he had sat out Game 4 of the Stanley Cup first-round series with the Flyers on Wednesday.

Washington had a commanding 3-0 lead and, after Holtby had an injury scare in practice on Tuesday when he collided with a teammate, a risk-reward situation was at hand.

Still, despite their advantage, the Caps' recent playoff history was one of underachievement. Taking something for granted was not something Washington could afford to do.

So after a brief morning skate, Holtby said: "Yeah. No ill effects. Ready for Game 4."

The Flyers, on the other hand, simply needed to figure out a way to survive.

Much of the hole they had dug for themselves had nothing to do with Steve Mason. When a team has been outscored 12-2, it's because nobody has played well.

Changing a goalie, however, is the most visible way to bring home the gravity of a situation - so Michal Neuvirth got the call in net for the Flyers.

"I think it's a good time for a change for our team going into this game," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when announcing the switch after the morning skate on Wednesday. "I believe Nuevy is the guy who can go in for us in this situation and do a great job."

We'll never know how much of that Hakstol truly believed and how much was simply, what else was he supposed to say?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because Neuvirth was up to the task.

Starting for only the second time since his March 16 victory, Neuvirth made 31 saves as the Flyers staved off elimination with a 2-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

It was Neuvirth's first playoff victory since April 23, 2011.

The series returns to Washington on Friday when the Flyers will try to survive for another day in Game 5.

Facing his former team, Neuvirth was particularly effective in the third period, when he stopped 12 of 13 shots.

Washington cut a 2-0 deficit in half on a goal by T.J. Oshie at 2:38 of the third period. That left it up to Neuvirth to hold on to a one-goal advantage against the Presidents' Cup winners for nearly 17 1/2 minutes.

The Flyers get full credit for playing well in front of Neuvirth. They also avoided the penalties they had taken in the first three games and surrenderes only two opportunities to Washington's lethal power-play unit.

"The guys did such a good job in front of me, and I was just finding my rhythm," Nuevirth said, "and by the second period, I was starting to feel really good."

Still, Neuvirth had to make a few strong saves to make sure the Flyers would play another game.

At 10:52, he stopped a strong shot by Washington defenseman Nate Schmidt. Less than two minutes later, Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky was uttering profanity after Neuvirth snuffed his attempt, just off the right side of the goal.

Neuvirth's biggest effort of the period, however, came with just over eight minutes left, when he snagged a straight-on wrist shot by Tom Wilson from about seven feet out.

Hakstol had said the change in net was not a negative comment about Mason, but was rather "about winning Game 4 - pure and simple."

Holtby did not display any lingering effects from the collision, and the Flyers' putting the puck in the net was more about their improved play than a drop in Holtby's.

Shayne Gostisbehere celebrated his 23rd birthday by getting the Flyers on the board with his first career playoff tally - a power-play goal just under six minutes into the game.

Normally, a goalie would be expected to stop a shot that came from about 55 feet and was straight on from the center of the ice.

Flyers wing Wayne Simmonds, however, set up such a great screen to block Holtby's vision that the goal was reviewed for interference before being confirmed as good.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald made it 2-0 with his second career playoff goal in the second period.

The Capitals have lost series 10 times after going up, 2-0, but never when leading 3-0.

The Flyers are 1-7 all-time when they've fallen behind, 3-0, but the one time they rallied back was against the Boston Bruins in 2010. They then went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: "It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us."

What happens next in this series could come down to a Tale of Two Goalies.

@SmallTerp