If it felt like Sean Couturier didn’t leave the ice Friday night, well, it was because he rarely did, and perhaps the Flyers have discovered their key to defeating the class of the NHL.
Couturier accomplished something no other Flyers forward has ever done in a regulation playoff game, and he did so while not only shutting down two of the game’s best players but also registering his second career playoff game with three or more points.
The 25-year-old finished the Flyers’ 5-1 Game 2 win with 27 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time, setting a franchise record for most by a forward in a playoff regulation game. Couturier, in the third period, led all Flyers with 12:10 and teamed up with Ivan Provorov to combine for 23:21.
After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin torched the Flyers in Game 1, combining for four goals in Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win, Couturier eliminated the two from the equation Friday.
When we further look at his minutes, Couturier finished with 19:07 against Crosby and 10:27 against Malkin. Crosby, on home ice, spent just 6:06 away from Couturier.
Crosby finished as a minus-1, and despite playing over 25 minutes, he was mostly unnoticeable except for breaking his stick after pushing the puck wide of the net at the end of the second.
Both Couturier and Provorov were dominant against the Penguins, and without them, the Flyers are not coming back to Philly with the series knotted 1-1.
Provorov led all players with 27:30, but as the Flyers’ horse, we expected that. Coming into the series, we suspected that Provorov would end up playing nearly 30 minutes a game.
Couturier, that’s a different story. It shouldn’t be a surprise Couturier was the Flyers’ leading minuteman among forwards, as he finished the regular season behind only Provorov in time on ice.
But to see Couturier play nearly half the game, that’s on another level. Couturier’s Game 2 effort was one of the most all-around dominant performances a Flyers forward has had in a long time. We often tend to throw the term “elite” around too often, especially when it comes to Couturier’s defensive prowess, but Friday, he was nothing short of elite.
While it’s unrealistic to ask Couturier to play 27 minutes a night the rest of this series, Dave Hakstol may have discovered how the Flyers can unseat the Penguins. The Flyers were outclassed in Game 1 and the opening minutes Friday. They survived the initial Penguins push in Game 2 and then controlled the game the rest of the way.
Hakstol rightfully shortened his bench, leaning on his top forwards more and using the rest periodically. If the Flyers want to advance, they’ll have to follow this formula.
We can drool over Couturier’s monster minutes, but he was equally active offensively. His relentless effort with a Penguin on his back led to the Flyers’ first goal. Then 47 seconds into the second period, he scored his fourth career playoff goal for the game-winner. Let’s not forget his no-look, between-the-legs pass that set up Nolan Patrick for his first career postseason marker.
Couturier unlocked his offensive potential this season, setting career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76). Now it looks like it's bleeding into the postseason. In 20 career playoff games before Friday, he had just four points, and they all came in one game. Couturier scored a hat trick and an assist against the Penguins, in Game 2, on April 13, 2012.
And on Friday, April 13, 2018, the Flyers unlocked a formula for playoff success.