Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.

Sean Couturier named Selke Trophy finalist

Sean Couturier named Selke Trophy finalist

While Sean Couturier did not suit up Wednesday night for Game 4 against the Penguins, the Flyers’ centerman did receive national recognition as a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

Couturier joins Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar as the three finalists for the award slotted to the game’s best defensive forward.

In reality, the Selke Trophy has transformed into the game’s best two-way forward and with Couturier's 31-goal, 76-point season, his offense finally caught up to his defensive ability. He finished tied with three players for third in plus/minus as a plus-34.

The 25-year-old could become the third Flyer to win the award and the first since Dave Poulin won in 1986-87. Bobby Clarke won the Selke Trophy in 1982-83.

Couturier missed Wednesday’s game after a collision with Radko Gudas during Tuesday’s practice. He officially suffered a “lower-body injury,” but video suggests it's a knee injury. During a drill, Gudas ran into Couturier, making contact with the center's right knee.

Bergeron has won four of the last six awards, while Kopitar won it two seasons ago. 

The NHL awards will take place June 20 in Las Vegas.

Have Flyers found key to beating Penguins?

Have Flyers found key to beating Penguins?

If it felt like Sean Couturier didn’t leave the ice Friday night, well, it was because he rarely did, and perhaps the Flyers have discovered their key to defeating the class of the NHL.

Couturier accomplished something no other Flyers forward has ever done in a regulation playoff game, and he did so while not only shutting down two of the game’s best players but also registering his second career playoff game with three or more points.

The 25-year-old finished the Flyers’ 5-1 Game 2 win with 27 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time, setting a franchise record for most by a forward in a playoff regulation game. Couturier, in the third period, led all Flyers with 12:10 and teamed up with Ivan Provorov to combine for 23:21.

After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin torched the Flyers in Game 1, combining for four goals in Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win, Couturier eliminated the two from the equation Friday.

When we further look at his minutes, Couturier finished with 19:07 against Crosby and 10:27 against Malkin. Crosby, on home ice, spent just 6:06 away from Couturier.

Crosby finished as a minus-1, and despite playing over 25 minutes, he was mostly unnoticeable except for breaking his stick after pushing the puck wide of the net at the end of the second.

Both Couturier and Provorov were dominant against the Penguins, and without them, the Flyers are not coming back to Philly with the series knotted 1-1.

Provorov led all players with 27:30, but as the Flyers’ horse, we expected that. Coming into the series, we suspected that Provorov would end up playing nearly 30 minutes a game.

Couturier, that’s a different story. It shouldn’t be a surprise Couturier was the Flyers’ leading minuteman among forwards, as he finished the regular season behind only Provorov in time on ice.

But to see Couturier play nearly half the game, that’s on another level. Couturier’s Game 2 effort was one of the most all-around dominant performances a Flyers forward has had in a long time. We often tend to throw the term “elite” around too often, especially when it comes to Couturier’s defensive prowess, but Friday, he was nothing short of elite.

While it’s unrealistic to ask Couturier to play 27 minutes a night the rest of this series, Dave Hakstol may have discovered how the Flyers can unseat the Penguins. The Flyers were outclassed in Game 1 and the opening minutes Friday. They survived the initial Penguins push in Game 2 and then controlled the game the rest of the way.

Hakstol rightfully shortened his bench, leaning on his top forwards more and using the rest periodically. If the Flyers want to advance, they’ll have to follow this formula.

We can drool over Couturier’s monster minutes, but he was equally active offensively. His relentless effort with a Penguin on his back led to the Flyers’ first goal. Then 47 seconds into the second period, he scored his fourth career playoff goal for the game-winner. Let’s not forget his no-look, between-the-legs pass that set up Nolan Patrick for his first career postseason marker.

Couturier unlocked his offensive potential this season, setting career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76). Now it looks like it's bleeding into the postseason. In 20 career playoff games before Friday, he had just four points, and they all came in one game. Couturier scored a hat trick and an assist against the Penguins, in Game 2, on April 13, 2012.

And on Friday, April 13, 2018, the Flyers unlocked a formula for playoff success.