Jake Guenztel scored four times, and added an assist for five points, as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Flyers 8-5 Sunday afternoon, eliminating the Philadelphia from the playoffs.
After a convictive 4-2 road victory in Game Five, the Flyers returned to the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center for Game Six in an attempt to stave off eliminations once more. Nearly 20,000 fans packed into the South Philadelphia venue clad in their traditional orange garb, hoping to give their hometown team a boost from the stands.
This energy, paired with the Penguins’ loss of Evgeni Malkin, who was scratched with a leg injury after a collision in the previous game, handed the Flyers early momentum as it took them just over tow mintues to strike first in Game Six. The goal was scored by Game Five’s hero, Sean Couturier, who netted the game winner with just over a minute to play Friday night. The Penguins held control of the puck on the far side boards in the Flyers’ defensive zone when a turnover forced the puck all the way down the opposite end of the ice. A grinding Scott Laughton was the first player to the loose puck as it careened toward the end wall. Laughton flipped the puck in front of the net, forcing goaltender Matt Murray to come out of his crease and play the puck with his stick. The puck bounced right onto the tape of a charging Wayne Simmons , who fired in on Murray. The goaltender made the initial save, but the puck squirted free between his pads and was tapped in by Couturier to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.
Four minutes later, the Penguins would draw even after a Michael Neuvirth cover up led to a draw in the Flyers’ defensive zone. Sidney Crosby won the faceoff, plying it back to the point for Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin swung it across the point to Kris Letang, who was left all alone to fire a shot onto Neuvirth. Neuvirth made the first save, but was unable to secure the loose rebound, which was picked up by a back door cutting Sidney Crosby. Crosby had a huge hole to fire at, burying the puck behind an outstretched Neuvirth, tying the game 1-1.
47 seconds later the Penguins were on the board again, capturing their first lead of the contest. An errant Andrew MacDonald pass went off the tape of Claude Giroux in the Flyers’ defensive end. It was picked up by Riley Sheahan, who circled in behind Neuvirth before dropping the puck for a trailing Phil Kessel. Kessel, shrouded by two Flyers’ defenders, was able to quickly usher the pass to the slot, where an awaiting Carl Hagelin beat Michael Neuvirth just outside the crease to the glove side. The Penguins led 2-1.
But the Flyers were not done in the first period, as they would tie things up with just over four minutes to play in the opening frame. Scott Laughton jammed the puck in deep behind Matt Murray’s net and was met by two Penguins defenders. He momentarily lost possession of the puck, but was able to recover just long enough to dig the puck a little further behind the net to Sean Couturier. Couturier swung the puck around the board to Ivan Provorov at the point, who quickly shuffled it cross point to his defensive partner, Andrew MacDonald. MacDonald whistled a slapper by a screening Wayne Simmons and through the pads of Murray to tie the game at two.
The offensive onslaught settled for the final four minutes of play, and these two Pennsylvania rivals went into the locker room tied 2-2.
Sean Couturier continued his first period excellence early in the second period, giving the Flyers a 3-2 advantage. Couturier stepped in front of an errant Patric Hornqvist neutral zone pass attempt, and sped into the offensive zone, barreling down on Matt Murray. He was chased from behind by Hornqvist, who got into position enough to turn Couturier’s body slightly, but not enough to alter his breakaway. Couturier swept in on net, pulling the puck back on a mighty dangle, away from a sprawling Murray, scoring on the forehand to give the Flyers the one goal edge, 3-2.
The Flyers looked to be in control midway through the second period, but they weren’t done scoring just yet. Ten minutes after the Flyers claimed a one goal lead, Scott Laughton put Philadelphia up two. The ever-present Sean Couturier, who finished the afternoon with five points in the losing effort, sprung Laughton with an aerial break out pass. Couturier’s feed split two defenders, finding the stick of Scott Laughton, who beat Justin Schultz around the edge to the right of the faceoff circle, where he fired a wrist shot past Matt Murray’s stick, doubling the Flyers’ lead, 4-2.
The Penguins began to mount their comeback with less than seven minutes remaining in the second period, as Patric Hornqvist drew Pittsburgh within one. The Flyers were unable to clear within their defensive zone thanks to a lunging effort by Olli Maata at the blue line. Maata found Sidney Crosby on a drop off pass, who quickly forwarded the puck to Jake Guentzel. Guentzel went cross ice for the tic-tac-toe finish with Patrick Hornqvist, who had half the net to shoot at with Neuvirth hugging the oppositse post. Nuevirth gave a diving effort across the crease, but was unable to get his body in front of the puck in time, as the Penguins drew within one again, 4-3.
As the second period wound down, the Penguins were able to not things up after a less than aggressive play by the Flyers defense. Radko Gudas was rubbed off the puck quite easily as he awaited the oncoming puck instead of attacking it. The puck found its way to Olli Maatta at the point, who fired it in on net. Neuvirth made the prerequisite save, but the puck was jammed at by by Jake Guentzel, who freed it from Neuvirth’s control, poking it between his pads into the back of the net. Pittsburgh had tied the game at four with 54 seconds to play.
After scoring in the final minute of play in the second period, Jake Guentzel found the net again in the opening minute of the third period. Ivan Provorov turned the puck over in the Flyers’ end, leading to a Pittsburgh two-on-on breakaway opportunity. Phil Kessel skated in on Neuvirth, skirting the puck across the slot at the last possible second onto the stick of Guentzel, who was able to bury a one-time shot past a committed and sprawled out Neuvirth. The early third period goal made it 5-4 Penguins.
The Jake Guentzel Show continued midway through the third period, as the Pittsburgh winger recorded a hat trick with less than eight minutes to play. Kris Letang kick started the third Guentzel goal, jumping out of the penalty box and upending Sean Couturier. The fans were adamantly unhappy with the lack of hooking call made, as the puck slipped away from the Flyers’ forward and onto the stick of an awaiting Guentzel. He was left wide open in the slot and buried a shot past Neuvirth’s glove to make it 6-4.
Ten seconds later, Guentzel would net his fourth goal of the contest, as the Flyers turned the puck over in the neutral zone. It flipped over Provorov’s head to Patric Hornqvist along the right side boards. Hornqvist centered a pass to Guentzel, who beat Neuvirth moving pipe to pipe. The Penguins to a 7-4 lead.
The Flyers made one final last-ditch effort, as, with three minutes remaining, Sean Couturier scored to make it 7-5. Philadelphia pulled Neuvirth in favor of the extra attacking on an offensive zone draw. The Penguins won the faceoff, but were unable to clear the puck, as it found its way to Claude Giroux’s stick. Giroux fired on net, and Couturier secured the rebound, beating Murray one final time for a hat trick of his own, as the Flyers cut the lead to two, 7-5.
In the waning moments, Bryan Rust fluttered the puck down the ice and into an abandoned net, closing the scoring and the Flyers season, as Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia 8-5.
The three goal victory gives Pittsburgh a 4-2 series victory over the Flyers, who’s season comes to an end after 98 regular season points and a playoff birth. The Penguins will advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals and take on the Washington Capitals-Columbus Blue Jackets series. The Capitals currently hold a three games to two lead.
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com contributor