Oskar Lindblom

Sean Couturier part of collision at Flyers' practice

Sean Couturier part of collision at Flyers' practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — Sean Couturier was the first player off the ice during Tuesday’s practice, and it wasn’t a good scene.

Couturier collided with teammate Radko Gudas and required the assistance of head athletic trainer Jim McCrossin to be taken back to the locker room. Gudas appeared distraught regarding the incidental collision and declined to answer any questions regarding the play that led to the contact.    

However, Wayne Simmonds didn’t seem to express much concern regarding Couturier’s health and his availability for Game 4.

“Coots will be fine,” Simmonds said. “I’m not worried about Coots.”

Dave Hakstol provided no update, but Couturier is unquestionably the Flyers' most indispensable player entering a pivotal Game 4. The Flyers' head coach sensed a change was needed following Sunday’s 5-1 loss, and Hakstol’s latest plan is to reunite Jakub Voracek with Couturier and Claude Giroux on the top line for Wednesday’s game.

“Was I surprised? It’s the playoffs and things like that happen,” Voracek said. “When you lose the game you want to shake things up to help a team win the game. The coaches thought it was the best idea to put us back together, so we’re just going to roll with it.”

Hakstol broke up that dynamic trio after the first 26 games of the season with the Flyers record at 8-11-7. They were the most dominant line in the NHL with a league-leading 25 goals among them, but they had generated 43 percent of the team’s offensive production and Hakstol felt the need to make a change as the Flyers were too top-heavy.

“We haven’t seen it together for a long time,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t like the depth of our forward group at that point in time. I think we feel a little bit differently about our forwards now." 

If Couturier can’t suit up Wednesday night, then Hakstol will likely resort to one of two possibilities. Either slide Giroux to center, despite him playing left wing all season, or elevate rookie Nolan Patrick to the top line and move Scott Laughton back to the center position.  

“We’re not going to jump to conclusions here,” Giroux said. “We’ll see how Coots is, but if it does come down to that, whatever’s best for the team, you go ahead and do it. I think everybody in this room feels like that.”

Regardless of Couturier’s health, Hakstol in all probability will scratch rookie Oskar Lindblom in favor of Jordan Weal, who led the Flyers with four points in four games against the Penguins during the regular season.

“It’s an adjustment. This takes another level,” Hakstol said. “Oskar hasn’t been able to compete probably as much as he would like to with the puck and offensively. There’s a little more on the line and the time for opportunity is a little bit shorter.”

The only combination Hakstol left intact was the fourth line of Laughton, Jori Lehtera and Matt Read.

Regardless of Hakstol’s reconfigured lines, if the Flyers don’t contain Sidney Crosby (three goals, four assists), the series may not return to Philadelphia after Game 4.  

“We’ve got to take care of the puck a little bit more. We can’t be scared making plays out there,” Giroux said. “Sometimes you start playing too safe and that gets you in trouble.

Hornqvist out
Penguins right winger Patric Hornqvist will miss Game 4 with an upper-body injury. Hornqvist is considered an energy player who scored the 1-0 Cup-clinching goal in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Penguins' power play had a 26.2 percent rate with Hornqvist in the lineup and a 12.9 percent rate without him this season.

Flyers to rely on key rookies as playoff kick off tonight

Flyers to rely on key rookies as playoff kick off tonight

PITTSBURGH — Five Flyers are expected to make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts tonight in Pittsburgh. Defenseman Ivan Provorov is perhaps the most relied upon rookie out of that group, which also includes Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom.

Provorov and Patrick will attempt to draw on their extensive playoff experience with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League as a starting point for the intensity, speed and physicality that comes with the NHL postseason. 

“I think that experience helped us both a lot,” Provorov said. “We learned how to win in the playoffs and play long series against teams and how to wear teams down. 

“I just look at it the same. The level is going to elevate. The physical part is going to come. I think both of us are ready for that and I’m just going to go out there and give everything I have."

Together, in back-to-back seasons, Provorov and Patrick played 40 games in the WHL Playoffs, advancing to the Memorial Cup tournament in 2016.

Hagg sits
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol spent several minutes on the ice before Wednesday’s morning skate speaking one-on-one with rookie defenseman Robert Hagg, whose physical style and positional play would be ideally suited for a playoff series. 

“He just came up to me and told me to be ready and that you never know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Hagg said. “He just told me to put my work in and you need to be ready.”

As one of the last Flyers off the ice during practice and morning skates, Hagg has put in the necessary work but has been a healthy scratch over the final eight games of the regular season.

“When you haven’t played in a while, you have to keep up physically and try not to be gassed after two shifts,” Hagg said. “It’s different when you practice all the time and then go into a game. You can limit that a little bit by practicing good and practicing hard to get prepared.” 

A three-peat in Pittsburgh? 
The talk swirling around Pittsburgh is the possibility of winning three straight Stanley Cups for the first time since the Islanders ripped off four straight from 1980-83. 

The Flyers find themselves in the unenviable task of trying to take down a team that has won its last eight postseason series since it was eliminated by the Rangers in five games in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

According to head coach Mike Sullivan, understanding roles and the bigger picture is a big part of that success. 

 “Our team is very well aware of what our identity is,” Sullivan said. “I think to a man our players understand what their contribution is in helping this team be successful and now we’ve got to go out there and play our game and we’ve got to embrace the challenge.”

Projected lines, pairings, scratches
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Michael Raffl
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Petr Mrazek

Scratches: Jordan Weal, Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Dale Weise, Johnny Oduya

Why this playoff berth is different for Ron Hextall's Flyers

Why this playoff berth is different for Ron Hextall's Flyers

Ron Hextall's process is methodical and meticulous.

At times, it can mimic a snail-like pace that would drive even the most patient person up a wall.

But there's substance and meaning to it.

The general manager's long view is setting up the Flyers for multiple Stanley Cup runs, not just go for the gusto and back to square one.

Which brings us to Saturday.

When the Flyers clinched a playoff berth behind a 5-0 rout of the Rangers, there was some validation to Hextall's master plan, a step forward in the process.

No, playoffs are not the ultimate goal, but this bid should represent more — because the Flyers are in the postseason with their youth in place, just about a year after Hextall deemed it ready.

"Our kids, it's time to give them a shot," Hextall said last April after missing the playoffs. "And we're going to do that."

This April, the Flyers are in the postseason with plenty of kids set for their first taste.

"The stage gets bigger, there's a lot more eyes looking at you," Sean Couturier said. "That's what you play for growing up." 

Hextall's Flyers got younger this season, but more importantly, better as they grew up.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg all played roles in pushing Hextall's vision onward during a season which started with far more questions than guarantees.

The 19-year-old Patrick and 21-year-old Lindblom are second-line guys seemingly improving with every game they play. Sanheim, 21, hasn't come out of the lineup since his recall March 9, while Hagg, 23, finished with 70 games and a team-best 238 hits.

All four are rookies.

But the rebuild even changed gears when Hextall, somewhat uncharacteristically, placed two 19-year-olds on his roster as camp broke for the 2016-17 season. Those teenagers were Provorov and Konecny, who are now massive contributors both at the age of 21.

Provorov, already, is a minutes-eating defenseman that turned in 17 goals, 24 assists and a plus-17 rating. Regarded for his maturity, he sounded determined for playoff hockey.

"We're not here just to get some experience," Provorov said. "We're here and we're going to try to win."

Konecny, on the other hand, has provided spunk and energy to go with 24 goals. His youthful exuberance has rubbed off on the Flyers, even 102-point captain Claude Giroux.

"T.K. is more loose during the games," Giroux said with a smile. "Often I kind of give him s--- to focus a little bit more."

But when he was Konecny's age …

"His personality, I think I see myself a little bit in him," Giroux said. "I used to be pretty loose and sometimes it got me in trouble. We have a good relationship, so it's good.

"He's a really good kid."

Just one of many Hextall trusted to augment his team's core.

It produced a playoff team, a notable mark in the GM's blueprint.

The next will be winning in the postseason.

We'll see if these kids are ready for that step of validation.