John Boruk

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

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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. 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

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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.

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