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 Sunday 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,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “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 (see story). 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 (see story). 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,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “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 (see story).
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.