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.
#BREAKING Our @6abc video of @NHLFlyers star Sean Couturier going DOWN at practice today after colliding with Radko Gudas. He limps off with the trainer. Claude Giroux told me "it didn't look good." So far no update from the #Flyers #NHLPlayoffs2018 #EarnTomorrow pic.twitter.com/SlfplFKjUd— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) April 17, 2018
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.
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.