Matt Murray

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 on verge of elimination after being blasted by Penguins in Game 4

Flyers on verge of elimination after being blasted by Penguins in Game 4

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Playing without Sean Couturier was too much of a loss for the Flyers.

The Penguins took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a convincing 5-0 win over the Flyers in Game 4 Wednesday. After scoring five goals in a Game 2 victory, the Flyers have managed just one goal in their three losses during the series. 

Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal just 4:33 into the game and Phil Kessel added his first goal of the series later in the opening period.

Penguins goaltender Matt Murray stopped all 26 shots for his second shutout of the series.

The Flyers’ power play finished 0 for 4 and is now 2 for 17 in the series. 

It’s the first time the Flyers were beaten in Games 3 and 4 of a playoff series on home ice since the 1989 Wales Conference Finals. 

Game 5 is scheduled for Friday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh (7 p.m./NBCSP).

• Unlike Game 3, the Flyers came out with a very timid start as they played with a real uncertainty considering Dave Hakstol had to make the necessary line changes in the absence of Couturier. 

Once again, the Flyers were hounded by Pittsburgh’s pressure, which eventually led to Matt Read’s holding penalty three minutes into the game. 

The Flyers were able to generate some sustained pressure after the initial 10 minutes. However, they lost all momentum when the Penguins converted a 2-on-1 between Malkin and Kessel after the Flyers had spent an entire shift in the Penguins’ zone. 

• The Flyers resorted to dumping and chasing more often in Game 4 as Pittsburgh clogged up the middle of the ice and denied them clean entries. 

The Flyers also had some inexcusable plays in the second period as they were caught offsides on a routine offensive zone entry and committed an unnecessary icing that led to their offensive ineptitude. As a result, the Flyers failed to generate a shot on net in the first 9:21 of the second period.  

• With Hakstol electing to keep Claude Giroux at left wing and moving Nolan Patrick up to the top line, the Flyers were weakened down the middle as Valtteri Filppula moved up to the second line and Jori Lehtera filled in as the third-line center. It presented clear matchup problems with the Penguins’ center combo of Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Derick Brassard. 

On a number of occasions, the Flyers would dump the puck in and the Penguins would retrieve it with no pressure. 

After falling behind early, Hakstol switched things up and moved Giroux to center with Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny for a handful of shifts.  

• The Flyers desperately needed to have the better goaltending and that simply didn’t happen as Brian Elliott was pulled for the second time in four games after he allowed three goals on 17 shots. 

While the Penguins easily dissected the Flyers’ PK on their power-play goal, Elliott had enough time to deny Kessel’s goal as the puck slid through his pads. Kris Letang’s goal was deflected off Andrew MacDonald’s stick and Elliott was visibly frustrated as there was nothing he could have done. 

Hakstol had a quick trigger in pulling Elliott after three goals. In Game 1, Elliott wasn’t yanked until the Penguins made it 5-0.   

• Unquestionably, the Flyers’ best forward in this game was Nolan Patrick. The rookie center brought speed and a strong pursuit of the puck to his game that wasn’t matched by his teammates. 

Patrick finished with a team-high six shots on goal, while no one else on the Flyers’ roster had more than three.

Dave Hakstol doesn't blame Brian Elliott for Game 1 debacle

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Dave Hakstol doesn't blame Brian Elliott for Game 1 debacle

PITTSBURGH — If the 2017-18 regular season proved anything within the Flyers' dressing room, it was the level of resiliency and determination they played with throughout times of adversity. They were forced to overcome a 10-game winless stretch that plummeted them to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings, while also battling through a multitude of goaltending injuries.

The Flyers will attempt to draw on that experience and hopefully utilize it to their advantage for Game 2.

“It’s good to keep it in your mind a little bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to move on,” captain Claude Giroux said. “They’ve got to beat us four times, right? We’re not going to change the way we play, what we do because of one game. Obviously, it’s not a pretty one but we’ve put that one behind us. We’re ready for Game 2 and if we go home at 1-1, we’ll be pretty happy with that.”

Can Elliott hold up?
Dave Hakstol met with starting goaltender Brian Elliott following Thursday’s practice as the Flyers head coach presumably checked in on the status of his starting goaltender while looking to ensure he was 100 percent ready and able to withstand the demands of a playoff series.

Hakstol did not back down from his support of Elliott despite allowing five goals on 19 shots.

“Two things: I think he’s reading plays well and I think he’s finding and seeing the puck well,” Hakstol said. “We have to do a better job in front of him and I don’t care who’s in net. He’s got to do his part and provide the saves for us, and hand-in-hand, we have to do a better job in front of him.”

Elliott has dropped his last seven playoff decisions dating back to Game 2 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals.

Making the Pens sweat
A by-product of Wednesday’s 7-0 loss was the luxury of the Penguins and head coach Mike Sullivan, to rest key players once the game was clearly decided midway through the second period. Sidney Crosby played four and a half minutes below his regular season average and most of the Penguins regulars saw their playing time cut back in an effort to conserve energy. 

To have a chance at extending the series to six or seven games, the Flyers acknowledged they must force Pittsburgh to play a more physical game and exert considerably more effort than they did in Game 1.  

Solving Matt Murray
Another deterrent for the Flyers entering Game 2 is the play of Matt Murray as the Pens goaltender continues to elevate his performance in the playoffs. When Murray takes the ice Friday, he’ll be looking to extend his current postseason shutout streak which currently stands at 206 minutes and 26 seconds — a mark that includes three straight shutouts over ten-plus periods of playoff hockey.

“I think for him he’s the type of guy that always has a chip on his shoulder. He always has something to prove and he’s always trying to get better,”  Penguins forward Bryan Rust said. “I think you can see it in practice and you can see it in each day that he comes to the rink and constantly trying to get better. That helps him rise to the occasion.”

Following his Game 1 shutout, Murray improved to 52-11-5 at PPG Paints Arena and 14-2 in the postseason. 

Projected lines and pairings

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Petr Mrazek