Flyers

Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

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Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

VOORHEES, N.J. — Don't think for one minute Michael Raffl isn't having fun.

The fifth-year Flyers forward is without a single point through 15 games and sees the shortest ice time on the team at 10:14 a night, a career low.

For a guy that scored 21 goals in 2014-15 and was at times featured in a top-line role alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, remaining his jovial self would seem like a challenge.

Raffl, though, has no reason to slouch. The good-humored Austrian is simply having a different type of fun. He's now on the highly praised, new-look fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. At 28 years old, Raffl is an elder statesman of sorts among Laughton and Leier, both 23 years old.

"My back gets sore from carrying those two guys," Raffl said Tuesday as Laughton laughed sitting right next to his locker at Flyers Skate Zone. "It's been good with those four days off now."

Raffl and Laughton are tight off the ice, which makes for good chemistry on it.

"For sure, he's still a rookie," Raffl said. "I put him in his place. He's been a good helper."

What does Laughton like about playing with Raffl?

"Nothing," he said, still laughing with his locker buddy.

Yeah, Raffl is doing just fine — the new job hasn't squelched his enjoyment.

"I'm just joking, this is all fun," Raffl said. "It's been good. Stats haven't been there, but the team has been going very well. This is pretty much the best I've felt ever since I've been here, team-wise. There are not too many games this year where we absolutely had no chance in a game. I felt like we were there every single time and could have won every single game, so that has been fun."

Furthermore, Raffl finally has consistency in his role, even if the major stats portray it as a lesser one. Throughout his time with the Flyers, Raffl has bounced around from line to line and position to position.

This season, he's appeared in every game thus far and hasn't moved.

"I take pride in it," Raffl said. "I don't think I've ever played more than 50 games on a line, so it's been a good run so far."

Raffl, Laughton and Leier have become a fixture on the beloved fourth unit.

"I haven't played with anyone else yet, so I'm happy with it," Leier said. "The two linemates I have right now, they're both great players. Raf's got [284] games, and he's been with G and Voracek at times, so he's been through it, he knows what he's doing obviously. He's been a 20-goal scorer, and then Scotty, too, he's got over 100 games, and it's good to have a guy like that on your line."

And while Raffl doesn't get to boast goals and assists, he's done a lot in the smaller areas. The winger has been a plus player, his 21 hits are second among all Flyers forwards, and he's committed just two giveaways and one penalty.

"That's what your job is on the fourth line," Raffl said. "It's still nice to score goals and get points, don't get me wrong, but yeah, it is what it is.

"You've got to adjust your game if you play a role like that.

"Leiersy and Laughts, they're extremely simple to play with, there's no magic to it. You go out there and work hard, be hard on pucks. If you turn it over or lose it, those guys are so fast, they can backcheck and get the puck back. All three of us have been doing that, so it gives you confidence in the offensive zone to try different stuff. Honestly, it's been a lot of fun so far."

Much to the delight of head coach Dave Hakstol.

"He just fits the mold of that line," Hakstol said of Raffl. "All of those guys have worked well together. The other two guys kill penalties together, so that kind of inherently builds a little bit more chemistry. Right from Day 1 of camp, Raf and Laughts have shown that they've had pretty good chemistry together. They've spent a lot of time together and very little time apart since Day 1 of camp."

Meanwhile, Raffl will eventually score a goal again.

It'll just add to his new fun.

"I actually forgot how to celebrate," Raffl said.

Playing through pain, Provorov and Couturier give Flyers all they've got

Playing through pain, Provorov and Couturier give Flyers all they've got

BOX SCORE

You could see the tears that had formed in Ivan Provorov’s eyes.

Whether it was the product of elimination, a turnover that led to the Penguins' go-ahead goal, the sheer emotion of playing on a shoulder that may need offseason surgery or the tribulations of a six-month journey, no 21-year-old kid can be expected to overcome these levels of distress and anguish.

“I did everything I could. The third period didn’t go as well as I wanted to. I turned the puck over a couple of times and it turned to goals and it cost us the game,” Provorov said while holding back emotions. “As long as my arm was attached I was playing.”

How Provorov mustered up the strength to play 20-and-a-half minutes in his final game of the season, an 8-5 loss to the Penguins, probably defied medical logic. His left shoulder was so battered from crashing into the boards in the final few minutes of Game 5 that his upper body was often contorted to a 45-degree angle where his only option was to pass just about every time the puck was on his stick, even with a wide open net to shoot at. 

 “He is a warrior,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald. “Everyone here knows it and respects the hell out of him.”

Had this been the regular season, Provorov and teammate Sean Couturier would have missed weeks of action. Couturier revealed he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament when he collided with Radko Gudas leading up to Game 4. Last Wednesday the Flyers' center could barely walk and yet he was already skating again.

“The decision was on me,” Couturier said, “Obviously, I had the support of the staff, the organization and the medical team. They helped me a lot. I had a lot of treatments. It definitely got better over the days, but it wasn’t the ideal situation. I didn’t really feel a whole lot today to be honest. I was just giving everything I got.”

Courageous and so incredibly determined, Couturier gave a performance for the ages. Skating on one good leg and another that needs at least four weeks of rest and treatment, the Flyers' Selke Trophy finalist scored a hat trick to go along with five points, and was on the ice for every goal the Flyers scored.

"Credit to Coots, what he played through during the playoffs and the way he played,” Scott Laughton said. “I don’t know much more to say about that guy. The way he battled and the way he played through what he was dealing with.”

The Penguins had their share of injuries as well. Evgeni Malkin missed Game 6 with a leg injury and Patric Hornqvist returned after missing the previous two contests. Even without Malkin, the Penguins had four goals from Jake Guentzel, plus they created havoc and stifled the Flyers with a suffocating forecheck that exposed areas the Flyers need to address in the offseason.

“You have to do it all the time and you have to be consistent in executing under pressure,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “We didn’t do that consistently in this series, not just tonight. That’s the time of year that it is.”    

Overall, the Flyers weren’t eliminated in six games because they didn’t have a healthy Couturier and Provorov. 

Rather, the dogged determination and incredible resolve of those two players is precisely why the Flyers can take pride in pushing the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions to six games, especially after the Flyers were manhandled 7-0 in Game 1.

In the end, the guys in orange and black simply weren’t good enough or deep enough. 

But draft and develop a few more Couturiers and Provorovs on your roster and the thought of winning championships year after year won’t just be a Pittsburgh thing.   

Sean Couturier played through torn MCL in Flyers' final 2 games

Sean Couturier played through torn MCL in Flyers' final 2 games

Sean Couturier's "lower-body" injury was a lot more serious than originally believed.

After the Flyers were eliminated by the Penguins in Game 6 Sunday (see observations), Couturier revealed he had been playing on a torn MCL in his right knee. It will not require surgery, he said.

Couturier missed just one game with the injury. When asked if he'd come back as fast if it were the regular season, the centerman said, "probably not."

"It's usually something like four weeks," he said. "Depends on the situation during the season, [but] probably take more time off."

The Flyers' top center suffered the injury in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas during practice April 17. He missed Game 4 and then returned for Game 5 in Pittsburgh, where he scored the game-winning goal to help the Flyers force Game 6.

On Sunday afternoon, Couturier recorded his second career playoff hat trick — both coming against the Penguins — and had five total points in the Flyers' 8-5 loss.

"That was incredible," Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. "If you guys only knew what kind of shape those guys were in. I respect the hell out of those guys."

It turns out, we found out exactly what kind of shape Couturier was in, and it certainly was far more serious than we thought.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Eric Mullin contributed to this story.