Flyers

Rob's Rants —The Flyers might really miss the playoffs

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Rob's Rants —The Flyers might really miss the playoffs

Question: What’s been worse, the weather in the month of March in the Delaware Valley or the Flyers' play this month?

Tough one, but I’d have to go with the Flyers. At least you can go inside to escape Mother Nature. There’s been no escaping the storm clouds forming of late around the Flyers. They say timing in life is everything and right now time could be running out on the orange and black’s playoff chances. They are 1-6-1 in the month of March. Teams that appeared to have no chance of catching the Flyers in the playoff race are now right on their bumper.

The Flyers had won ten of eleven after beating the Canadiens, 1-0, on Feb. 26. Since then, they’ve lost games in a myriad of ways. Late in games (Boston, Vegas). Poor starts; the Flyers have been outscored in the first period during this stretch, 11-5. The power play has not been good enough. The penalty kill has been a major issue all season. They have not gotten nearly enough secondary scoring.

And players not named Claude Giroux who have been studs all year have not been producing goals. Sean Couturier does a ton for this hockey team. But the way they are built, he needs to put the puck in the net. He‘s gone without a goal in thirteen straight games.  

But more troubling is the pattern of late where they are being outworked. 50-50 battles are being lost. Careless clears, turnovers you may get away with against Montreal, cost you against Vegas.

Head coach Dave Hakstol said this after Thursday’s loss to Columbus: “I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play, and that squarely comes to me.”

Excuse me? More ready to play? This time of year? That’s a stark indictment of both him and his team. Mid-March, game No. 71 of the season at home vs. a team that is right on your heels and they were more ready than your club? His players echoed the same sentiment after the game. Inexcusable. This would be a colossal collapse if they don’t make the postseason. The fans are owed more. 

Columbus has won six straight and is now tied with the Flyers at 81 points. The Florida Panthers, who at 77 points are three out of the final wildcard spot, were 16 points behind the Flyers on Feb. 26. They now trail them by just four points with three games in hand. The Flyers are currently the sixth seed, they have eleven games left — five at home, five are against Metropolitan Division opponents, all but two are against the Eastern Conference. So they very much control their own fate. But if they don’t find a sense of urgency, it will be two straight seasons of tee times in early April.

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Whatever qualifies as the writing on the wall should probably be ignored when it comes to Flyers hockey.

A team that was humiliated and booed off home ice after it was outscored 10-1 in Games 3 and 4 had just about everything working against it during Friday night’s elimination game in Pittsburgh.

The eulogy had been drafted and all it needed was Sidney Crosby’s finishing touches in front of a sellout crowd of screaming, yellow towel-waving fans. The Penguins were ready to bury the bodies and move on to the next round.

“There’s a lot of commotions,” Sean Couturier said. “When s--- hits the fan and things start not going our way, you've got to kind of focus and stick together.”

Couturier was the catalyst in Friday’s 4-2 Game 5 victory (see observations). The Flyers' center knew not long after the morning skate, that regardless of his health, he was determined to play. Claude Giroux even conjured up the memory of an old teammate as additional incentive.

“I told him the story of (Chris) Pronger in Game 6 in Buffalo (2011), and he surprised us at 3:30 after our naps that he was going to be in,” Giroux said. “Before he went on the ice, I said, ‘You gonna pull a Prongs or what?’ And I told him the story and he texted me right after the morning skate and said, ‘I’m pulling a Prongs.’ So it was pretty funny.” 

Despite playing seven and a half minutes below his playoff average, Couturier gutted out nearly 17 minutes of ice time (nearly seven minutes on the penalty kill alone) and scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 remaining in regulation.

“Coots, what he did, he’s a warrior tonight and obviously our MVP,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “Just him being out there, it’s huge for us. I think the penalty kill was phenomenal. I think they’re the real reason why he won that game.”

Valtteri Filppula’s shorthanded goal was arguably the turning point with the Penguins threatening to take a two-goal lead late in the second period. While one was left wondering about the Flyers' line combinations, head coach Dave Hakstol trusted Filppula enough to center the top line with Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

It was the 34-year-old center, not Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Giroux, who stepped up offensively in Game 5 with his most productive game as a Flyer, posting a goal and two assists.

“I don’t want to start ranking games and stuff like that, but Fil was good,” Hakstol said. “You've got to do that, especially at playoff time, when injuries are part of it. When your roll changes a little bit, you've got to step forward.”

And before the opening puck drop, it was Michal Neuvirth, not Brian Elliott, who led the team onto the ice. Neuvirth’s last start came in Colorado on March 28 and he hadn’t played a game in net from start to finish in over two months.

His glove save on Crosby inside the final minute sealed the Penguins' fate. 

“He looked great and looked really comfortable in there,” Couturier said. “He had to fight hard for a lot of pucks, and he made some big saves at the end and you can’t ask more from a goalie in the playoffs.”

The Flyers are now 60 minutes (and possibly more) away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7. 

Two days ago, that was a scenario nobody could draw up.

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — After sitting out the previous game with a right leg injury, Sean Couturier scored the game-winning goal Friday with 1:15 remaining in regulation during the Flyers’ 4-2 Game 5 victory over the Penguins. The Flyers kept their postseason hopes alive as they cut the series deficit to 3-2.

Making his first start of the series, Michal Neuvirth came up with the save of the game when he robbed Sidney Crosby on a point-blank glove stop with 50 seconds left in the third period. 

Neuvirth denied 30 shots in the game.

Claude Giroux opened the scoring with his first goal of the playoff series and his first postseason goal since 2014, which gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Playing on the top line with Giroux and Couturier for the first time this season, Valtteri Filppula scored his first goal in his last 16 playoff games that tied the game at 2-2 late in the second. Filppula had a three-point night with a goal and two assists.

Matt Read sealed the win with an empty-netter. 

Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust added goals for the Penguins.

Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday in Philadelphia (3 p.m./NBC).

• Despite suiting up and providing a gutsy effort, Couturier appeared to labor early while dealing with his leg injury. Early on, he didn’t have much power behind his shot and didn’t have much of a skating burst as he relied more on solid positional play. However, he seemed to get better as the game moved along. 

Apparently Couturier wasn’t healthy enough to play on the top line or on the No. 1 power-play unit, but he did receive his typical workload on the penalty kill.

• After the Flyers bottled up the Penguins in the first period, Pittsburgh adjusted its attack in the second. That led to easier offensive zone entries and a longer sustained attack in the Flyers’ zone. 

The Pens’ third line capitalized against the Flyers’ fourth line as Rust broke loose from Read and no one picked him up on the backside wraparound.

The Flyers were also held without a shot over 11½ of the second period. Offensive zone time was 4:10 for Pittsburgh to 45 seconds for the Flyers in the second period.

• Neuvirth appeared to have the post covered, but apparently Rust was still able to pop it up and over the goalie’s blade. Regardless, a bad goal. 

Later in the second period, Neuvirth allowed another goal that he should have stopped as Guentzel snapped a shot that slipped between his legs. 

Overall, Neuvirth made some key saves early and on the Penguins’ power play to offset the goals.

• Regardless of the outcome, the Flyers gave Pittsburgh their most physical effort in this seres. They battled for loose pucks and made some of the Pens’ most skilled players, primarily Evgeni Malkin, fight for their possessions. 

Brandon Manning got in Malkin’s face and Radko Gudas came to the defense of Giroux when he fought Jamie Oleksiak after his incidental contact.    

• Despite some concerns that Filppula couldn’t handle the responsibilities as a top-line center, No. 51 was arguably one of the Flyers’ best forwards. Filppula scored shorthanded, played a near perfect first period and provided solid defensive play. He also led the Flyers with four shots on goal.