Sean Couturier scored a go-ahead goal with 75 seconds left as the Flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2, staving off elimination and drawing the series to 3-2.
With their backs against the wall, the Flyers needed a change of pace to hold off the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five, and that’s exactly what they delivered thanks to Head Coach Dave Hakstol. Along with the re-insertion of Couturier back into the lineup after missing Game Four with an injury, Hakstol made several roster moves prior to Game Five to shake up his lines.
Most notably, Michael Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Eliott midway through the second period of Game Four got the start in net for the Flyers in Game Five, and he did not disappoint. Neuvirth stopped 30 of the 32 Penguins’ shots he faced to keep the Flyers’ playoff run alive.
Along with Neuvirth, Dave Hakstol elected to turn to his veteran forwards for production, scratching Oskar Lindblom in favor of Dale Weise and moving Valterri Filppula to the top line center, pairing him with Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Robert Hagg also dressed in Game Five, replacing Travis Sanheim on the third defensive pairing.
The Flyers came out the aggressors to open the first period in hostile territory, getting multiple scoring opportunities early in the period. Despite the pressure, Philadelphia found themselves far too often shooting into the pads of a squared up Matt Murray, who turned aside each early flurry the Flyers put together.
But as has been the case in each of the first four games of the series, the initial strike came from the eventual winning team, as Claude Giroux netted his first goal of the playoffs with less than three minutes to go in the period. Valterri Filppula obtained possession of the puck in the neutral zone and was able to dangle in between two Pittsburgh defenders to gain entry into the slot. He soon after lost possession of the puck, however, as it trickled free behind the net. Filppula never quit on the puck, grinding along the end wall to regain possession. He poked the puck to an uncovered Jakub Voracek, who quickly found an even more open Claude Giroux just outside the slot. Giroux ripped a one-time past Matt Murray to take a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
At the end of the first period, the Flyers were able to smother the potent Penguins’ offense, allowing just five shots on Neuvirth, who stopped them all. At the end of one period, it was 1-0 Flyers.
The Flyers maintained the intensity of the first period into the second, but were able to record just one shot despite a handful of chances. Michael Raffl faced an open net off a Nolan Patrick shot that was saved, but not secured, by Matt Murray, but the puck bounced up onto his skate and scuttled into the corner.
That’s when things would start to get chippy, as a scrap out in front of Michael Neuvirth on the other end of the ice led to Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Manning getting physical. The two were sent off for incidental roughing minors. Neither teams scored during the 4-on-4 action, but Evgeni Malkin was sprung with a break out pass just as he exited the box and was immediately slashed by Shayne Gostisbehere, putting the Penguins back on the man advantage.
Pittsburgh came out with immense pressure on the power play, putting up nine consecutive shots, but were unable to score, hitting the crossbar once but finding no greater success. The Flyers penalty kill was perhaps the biggest cause for victory Friday night, as they were able to hold off the number one power play in the league on all five man advantage opportunities.
The 1-0 lead wouldn’t hold up as the game winner, however, as 12 minutes into the second period, the Penguins knotted things up. Bryan Rust and Matt Read were battling for possession along the half wall to Neuvirth’s right after the Flyers failed to clear the zone when Rust beat Read around the edge. Rust played the puck behind the net as Read gave chase in front of Neuvirth. Read was too slow to the opposite pipe, as Rust was able to get around the corner, beating Neuvirth’s pad for a 1-1 tie.
Less than five minutes later, the Penguins would strike again, taking their first lead of the game. After the Flyers successfully killed off a 4-on-3, the Penguins were able to break out off a Philadelphia offensive zone turnover. Dominik Simon connected with Sidney Crosby up the middle of neutral zone, who, in turn, found Jake Guentzel to the right of Neuvirth. Guentzel fired a wrist shot through the five hole of Neuvirth to take the 2-1 lead.
The Flyers responded just a minute and a half later, as the period was coming to an end, to tie the game at two. Once more down a man, Philadelphia sprung Valterri Filppula on a perfect break out pass through the neutral zone. Filppula left the puck for Jori Lehtera on the drop pass, who fired it in on Matt Murray. Murray made the inceptive save but could not control the puck. Following the shot, Filppula jammed at the puck out in front, a shot Murray also saved. Filppula found success on the second effort, sliding the puck between Murray’s legs to tie the game 2-2.
The Penguins continued to outshoot the Flyers as the third period began, particularly on the power play, but Neuvirth stood tall on all accounts. Early in the final frame, Radko Gudas and Jamie Oleksiak squared up after Oleksiak got away with a cross check on Claude Giroux that Gudas seemed to take exception to. Oleksiak came away on top of the pile, but Gudas appeared to land one good punch to the jaw before the fight was broken up.
Play remained steady until Sean Couturier netted the eventual game winner with 1:15 left in regulation. The Selke Award finalist turned in perhaps one of his grittiest performances, clearly playing through pain, in Game Five. As time ticked down, the Penguins were unable to clear the defensive zone. As the puck trickled out toward the blue line, Couturier lunged with his stick to keep it in the offensive zone. Couturier settled the puck and fired from just inside the blue line, splitting a pair of Penguins’ defenders. One of those defenders was Brian Dumoulin, who appeared to get clipped by the shot, changing the trajectory of the puck on the way in to Matt Murray. Murray was unable to get a glove on the redirected shot as the Flyers took a 3-2.
With waning seconds drifting away, the Penguins offered one final assault on the Flyers. Sidney Crosby found himself alone, set up with a one-time opportunity to beat Michael Neuvirth. But Neuvirth, sprawled out on the ice from the previous shot, got the glove up in time and snared the puck off Crosby’s stick. Seconds later, Matt Read found the back of an empty net to give the Flyers a Game Five 4-2 victory.
With the win, the series shifts back to Philadelphia for a Game Six. That game will be played Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m., and you can hear all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com contributor