Flyers

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

BOX SCORE

The Blackhawks want what the Flyers have right now.

A dominant No. 1 line.

The Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek trio scored all three of the Flyers' goals Thursday, dominating the Blackhawks' top line in the first 25 minutes of a 3-1 victory (see observations).

“When you get a chance to play against one of the top lines in the league, you get excited about it,” Claude Giroux said. “Coach told us that we were going to play most of the game against them. I think when you play with the same guys for a good amount of games, you feel more comfortable and the chemistry is more there.”

Giroux scored his ninth goal of the season 4:58 into the game on a perfect one-time feed from Voracek. A little more than seven minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere teed up a similar pass for Voracek, who ripped home his fourth goal in his last seven games (see highlights)

Three goals, four assists and a plus-9 rating compared to Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane that finished with a minus-5 and no points. The Flyers' "Big Three" has combined for 60 points in the Flyers' first 16 games of the season. 

“It was a big matchup and a big challenge for us,” Couturier said. “We’re willing to go against anyone. We feel really confident about our game right now. We can outscore any line or any pairing. We've just got to keep going.”

“You’re talking about competitive people,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s three good players on that line and they’re all different, they play the game differently, they have different elements, different strengths, but the three of them together, big credit to them — it has worked well for our hockey team to this point.”

Hakstol assembled the Flyers' top line by transitioning Giroux from center to left wing during the second week of training camp, and the Flyers' head coach has yet to deviate from that trio this season. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are desperate to try anything. 

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up his lines again, this time pairing Toews and Kane together with Sharp in an attempt to rekindle some magic from the glory days of their Stanley Cup seasons. The Flyers proved the experiment to be an utter disaster as it barely lasted 20 minutes before Quenneville pulled the plug and switched Sharp with the speedier Brandon Saad.

Hard to believe this was the same Chicago team that put up 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins just a month ago. 

“[Ivan Provorov] and [Robert Hagg] did a great job against their top line and frustrating them," Gostisbehere said. "When you’re frustrating their top line, it’s kind of like cutting the head off a snake. The rest of the team will fold. I think we did a lot of good things out there of limiting time and space because they’re a skilled team."

Gostisbehere became the quickest defenseman to score 100 points in a Flyers uniform, reaching the milestone in 155 games

“Yeah, it’s awesome, a tremendous honor to do it but do it with my teammates and my coaches, they put me in those situations to go out there and get those points,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s huge. It’s a nice group effort — family support, everyone.”

After the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, they appeared to shift into cruise control and were outplayed over the final 35 minutes. Brian Elliott, who lost, 3-0, to the same Blackhawks just eight days earlier, bailed out the Flyers on more than one occasion with perhaps his best all-around game since joining the Flyers.

Elliott turned aside 38 shots and was vital in helping the Flyers kill off Chicago’s two-man advantage for 1:44 near the end of the second period.   

“It was huge," Elliott said. "They could have tied it up there at the end of the period and we would have been tied going in. Killing that off was big for our guys. We did a really great job. They didn’t do much on it. You keep things to the outside on that and they didn’t cross box us, so that’s good.”

When asked which save stood out the most, Elliott pointed to a pass he disrupted as the one play that was fresh in his mind.

“Taking away that pass from Kane in the 5-on-3 with my stick," Elliott said. "I was happy with that one because that’s an open net at the backdoor.”

“It’s big, to be able to get that at that time of the game and that situation," Hakstol said. "[Elliott] did a good job, made some saves for us. PK battled hard, big part of the game.”

The Flyers' win also marked the 14th consecutive regular-season win over the Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.

Quenneville might consider reuniting Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull on a top line if he thought it might bring the Blackhawks a win in Philadelphia. 

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Friday night for Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-1)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia; Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups (without Sean Couturier; more on him here)

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Jori-Lehtera-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Sean Couturier (injured), Taylor Leier and Dale Weise; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Patric Hornqvist (injured), Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Flyers' energy level
The Penguins would love nothing more than to close out the series on home ice and rest up as they await the winner of the Capitals-Blue Jackets series. Sometimes that can force a team with a chance to close out a series to take its foot off the gas ever so slightly. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena will be roaring and the key for the Flyers is to survive the initial first 10 minutes of the opening period as the Penguins will come out strong in attack mode. Falling behind early could lead to the Flyers accepting their fate and the Penguins closing out the series in five games. 

Bold prediction: The Flyers will extend the series to a Game 6. They have performed admirably in closeout games when facing elimination. Claude Giroux stuck out his neck a little bit when he told reporters “we’ll be back for Game 6.” Giroux’s made similar statements not regarded as bold guarantees, but he usually backs up his words and doesn’t back down from a challenge. The captain also held a brief meeting with teammates on the ice Thursday near the conclusion of practice. A handful of the Flyers can recall falling down to the Capitals 3-0 in 2015-16 before the Flyers rallied to win the next two games before losing, 1-0, in Game 6. We should see a much more defensive-minded effort similar to Game 2.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on: 
Robert Hagg
We have a pretty good feel for how this game will go. Brandon Manning will fall a few times, turn it over a bunch. The Pens will be all over the Flyers. The only thing we don't know is how Hagg plays in his first career playoff game. Should have been sooner, much, much sooner. Should have been Manning who came out and not Travis Sanheim. Anyways, how does Hagg fare against the big, bad Penguins?

Bold prediction: "It's Close Until It Isn't." Mothers, a four-piece indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, has a song titled "It Hurts Until It Doesn't." Pretty accurate description of these Flyers right now. It hurts until you realize they were never really in it. Then comes acceptance. Tonight will be close until it isn't. Pittsburgh blows this open in the second period and series over.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Which team scores first
If the Penguins take an early 1-0 lead, it will be a death blow to these Flyers. They've been dreadful at recovering from Pittsburgh goals, showing no ability to redirect momentum. Given how this series has transpired, the Penguins striking first might crush any confidence the Flyers have left in the tank. However, if the Flyers can jump out with a statement, the belief that this series can meet a Game 6 in Philadelphia will only grow.

Bold prediction: Sidney Crosby lights the lamp first, matching the Flyers' goal output for the series and signaling the unofficial end of the first-round matchup. Crosby's been so darn good this series that it seems only fitting he gets things started in front of the home crowd. The Flyers will score but Crosby's tone-setting marker will be the beginning of the end for the 2017-18 Flyers.

Recommended reading
• Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

• What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

• Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

• Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

PITTSBURGH — With general manager Ron Hextall looking on from the tunnel to the bench, Sean Couturier took faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere during Friday’s morning skate. 

Putting pressure on his injured right leg while gaining leverage in the faceoff circle was part of determining the pain tolerance and whether Couturier could play in Game 5 against the Penguins.

“I don’t know. Trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,” Couturier said rather jokingly. “It was kinda tough to test it out. I was just trying to simulate game situations.”

Of course, morning skates are nothing resembling the speed and intensity of a playoff game, but Friday marked the third straight day Couturier has skated.

“I felt pretty good. I felt better than yesterday,” Couturier said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warm-ups and see how that goes. More movement, more skating than the last two times. It was a good day. It’s one thing to play but you’ve got to be able to help the team as well.”

Two years ago, playing without Couturier, the Flyers fought off elimination twice in their six-game series against the Capitals after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. Head coach Dave Hakstol believes that experience is something the veterans can impart on the younger, more experienced Flyers.

“This is a very different team — a lot of different personnel,” Hakstol said. “There were some guys that were part of that series, and some other guys who have different playoff experiences. So, I think you draw off your veterans’ experience.”

Historically, the Flyers have succumbed to the opponent when trailing 3-1 in a seven-game series with a 1-16 record when facing elimination entering Game 5. The only exception came during the Flyers remarkable 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

At this point, Hakstol doesn’t feel the need to motivate by stressing the importance of a must-win game. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot of talking yesterday,” Hakstol said. “We went out and had a good practice and took 24 hours as we traveled here to Pittsburgh. We talked a little bit in the morning just to get our focus in place. For the most part, we know where we’re at, so there’s no need to go into a bunch of clichés.”

Interestingly, Hakstol would not confirm his starting goaltender, but Brian Elliott is expected to make his seventh straight start despite a 4.75 goals against with a .856 save percentage in the first five games. Elliott, who was not on the ice for the morning skate, was stretching and going through his typical game-day rituals.

“We need a big performance from our goalie, yes, that’s fair to say,” said Hextall. “We’re going into their building and they’re going to be hungry, so we need a big performance from our goalie.”