The season has come to a close.
The Philadelphia Flyers could not extend their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, losing by a final score of 8-5 to lose the series in six games. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, as the Orange and Black battled through the final 60 minutes of the season, but came up short.
Sean Couturier had a monster game, recording points on all five goals including a hat trick, and Ivan Provorov played through the pain to help his team, but some defensive gaffes by Radko Gudas and other breakdowns resulted in a loss.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ season-ending loss to the Penguins.
Couturier’s herculean effort on torn MCL should not be forgotten
Game 6 was a tough one for the Flyers, but that should not take away from Couturier’s herculean effort to carry the Flyers.
Couturier already had one huge game as he came back from injury to play a big role in the Flyers’ Game 5 with with a strong penalty kill and game-winning goal, but he stepped it up even further in Game 6. He had a hand in all five of the Flyers’ goals and played over 20 minutes. He was undoubtedly the best Flyer on the ice.
That would be impressive enough alone, but the circumstances only make his feat even more impressive. After the game he revealed that he was playing with a torn MCL, an injury that would normally require at least four weeks of recovery time.
The Flyers had five goals in the game, and all of them were nearly a direct result of a great play by Sean Couturier.
Couturier opened the scoring in the first period, showing off his Selke-worthy skills and 200-foot game. It started in the defensive zone, where Couturier got his stick on a pass back to the point to deflect it off the wall and out of the zone. Scott Laughton chased it down in the corner as Couturier trailed the play. Wayne Simmonds couldn’t get his shot past Matt Murray, but Couturier followed up the play to crash the net, negate a clearing attempt, and jam the puck home.
Then, after the Penguins scored two quick goals in the middle of the period to take a 2-1 lead, Couturier picked up an assist off a cycle on MacDonald’s game-tying goal.
Once again it started in the defensive zone, this time behind the net. Couturier tied up his man on the puck, allowing it to squirt free to Matt Read, who flipped the puck to the opposite side of the ice where Couturier and Simmonds were skating. Simmonds tipped the puck to Couturier in the neutral zone, who then gave it back to Simmonds once he entered the zone. Simmonds bought some time up by the blue line, then worked the puck down low to Couturier, who got it further along to Laughton. He beat his man, then Simmonds came in to help move the puck past Crosby and to the side of the net. Couturier beat Crosby to the puck and passed it to Ivan Provorov at the point, who fed Andrew MacDonald for a one-timer that beat Murray thanks to a screen in front by Simmonds.
It was “only” a secondary assist, but the third line absolutely made that goal happen. They got the puck into the zone, cycled it behind the net, and got traffic to the net to allow MacDonald to score. And Couturier was still just getting started.
He started the third period to help kill off 35 seconds of power play time, then went to work offensively. As the penalty expired, Couturier and Read converged on Patric Hornqvist in the neutral zone, and the puck bounced off the winger and headed towards Couturier up the ice. He fended off Hornqvist on the backcheck, made a great move, and slipped the puck past Murray to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
That was Couturier’s biggest goal of the game, and it came like the first one, at the beginning of the period. Just like the first period, he added an assist later as well. This time it was a primary assist, and it was a thing of beauty.
He picked off a centering pass at the side of the net, collected himself with some time and space in front of him, and skated the puck a little bit up the wall on the left side. He got to the top of the circle and sent a perfect saucer pass to a streaking Laughton, who beat Murray with a wrist shot to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead. Yet again it was a defensive play leading to offense for Couturier and the Flyers, who had four points on the day at that point.
That was the end of the real highlights for Couturier, as the Penguins took over thanks to some turnovers in the third period, but he did complete his hat trick with the goalie pulled. Claude Giroux picked off a clearing attempt in the slot and got a shot on net. Couturier set himself up in front and buried the rebound to get the Flyers within two goals late in the game, and more importantly for himself, complete the hat trick.
Sean Couturier was the Flyers best player for two elimination games while playing with a torn MCL. He scored the game-winning goal to keep the Flyers alive late in Game 5, then did everything he could to help in Game 6 with a hat trick and two assists. It was a herculean effort that should not be forgotten.
Provorov plays through the pain
Couturier had a herculean effort, and Provorov was right there behind him. Ivan Provorov went hard into the boards late in Game 5, did not skate prior to pregame warmups for Game 6, but wouldn’t let anything keep him out of a playoff hockey game.
Provorov has been a warrior for the Flyers since making the roster out of training camp last season. He’s played in all 164 games, plus six playoff games this season, while gaining more responsibilities along the way. That culminated in him racking up 30:07 of ice time in Game 5, playing in over half of an elimination game.
It wasn’t as dominant as a game that Couturier had, but the heart that Provorov showed was real. He said after the game that he would’ve played as long as his arm was still attached, and he tried to not think about the pain throughout the game. It obviously hampered him at times, as he was thinking pass-first in shooting situations and couldn’t handle the puck as well, but he went out there and played important minutes in an elimination game.
He makes the simple defensive play look easy, and that occurred multiple times throughout the game. That was on full display in the second period when he closed the gap on Crosby and negated him with ease, allowing the Flyers to take control of the puck.
Provorov turned the puck over early in the third period and it resulted in the Penguins’ fifth goal. He was on the ice for all three of Guentzel’s third-period goals, and was on the ice for six goals against in total. It was a tough game for the young defenseman, but it was more about the effort he put in to even play in the game rather than the performance and some puck luck.
The young defenseman plays beyond his years, and it’s joked that he’s either a machine or secretly a 30-year old experienced veteran. His intense offseason workouts are kept on the down low, and he showed what he’s made of by playing through a painful injury in Game 6.
Gudas’ game-changing gaffes
For as good of a story the first two storylines were, this one was just as bad. Radko Gudas was the main reason that the Flyers blew their two-goal lead in the second period, and subsequently one of the reasons the Flyers lost Game 6.
The Flyers got an insurance goal from Laughton just over midway through the second period, and they had momentum in their favor. But then the Penguins struck.
Gudas stepped up to make a hit and force a dump-in with a little less than seven minutes left in the second period. Brandon Manning couldn’t handle the bouncing puck, but boxed out his man to allow Gudas to pick up the puck at the side of the net. He skated to the corner, but flubbed the clearing attempt. Olli Maatta kept the puck in the zone, and the Flyers’ defensemen were stuck in the middle of the ice. Gudas couldn’t cut off the pass from Jake Guentzel to Hornqvist, who got away from Manning in the slot.
The Flyers will still ahead at that point, but their lead was cut in half to just one goal. It remained that way until the final minute of the period.
Gudas collected the puck at the side of the net, the left side this time, and looked to move the puck up ice. He chose to not get rid of the puck initially to either Simmonds or Laughton, who were both open in the zone, but rather spun into the corner where Crosby met him. He then tried to go d-to-d behind the net, but his pass hit off of Guentzel’s skate and the Penguins took over. Gudas then went lazily to the boards on a puck that was rimmed around, and Hornqvist beat him to it to keep the cycle going. He followed him out to the top of the circle, which allowed Guentzel to get in front of Neuvirth and deflect home a point shot. The game was tied.
Those were a pair of horrible turnovers that can not be made ever, let alone in a playoff game with a two-goal lead. Gudas tried to do way too much with the puck when he had other options available. Hell, just ice the puck and live to see another shift. Don’t allow the Penguins to pounce on the puck, especially Sidney Crosby, in the offensive zone.
Gudas was only on the ice for two goals against, but they were both horrible plays by him. His two failed clears turned the game around, gave the Penguins life, and ultimately ended the Flyers’ season.
Powerless man advantage haunts Flyers
One of the storylines throughout the whole series was special teams play. The Flyers lived or died by their special teams play, and that was true in Game 6. It was usually their penalty kill that got most of the spotlight, but the power play was putrid in the series and Game 6.
The Flyers had three crucial power-play opportunities in the game, and they did nothing with them. They only had two shots on goal on their three power plays, both coming in the third period. It was a small-time effort from their big-time players on the biggest stage.
All three of the power plays in this game were chances for the Flyers to score a potentially game-changing and series-changing goal. Things were picking up physically and the Flyers needed to take advantage.
Their first came midway through the second period after Giroux hit Carl Hagelin hard. Phil Kessel went after Giroux, taking a penalty, and it gave the Flyers a chance to take a two-goal lead and add insult to injury a bit given the circumstances. But they couldn’t get anything going. They missed a tip-in play early in the power play, Gostisbehere missed a shot from the faceoff dot later in the power play, but those were the only two chances they really had in the two minutes.
Laughton scored just a little bit after the power play expired to give the Flyers the two-goal lead, but it’s not the same as a momentum-shifting power-play goal given those circumstances.
They had two more huge power plays in the third period. Both of them came while they were down by one goal, giving them a chance to tie it up. Their first of the period came with over 14 minutes left. They could hardly get set up in the offensive zone and once they did they only got a few shot attempts, none on net.
Their second came in the latter half of the period and was split between a 4-on-3 and a 5-on-4 after Letang crosschecked Couturier. They had no good looks during 1:28 of the 4-on-3, with shots being taken from too far out. Couturier took a one-timer from the circle to finally get a shot on net, and Gostisbehere took one from the same spot on the 5-on-4, but that was all they even got on net.
The power play did not do enough in this game or in this series for the Flyers. They got a goal from Giroux in Game 5, and Couturier definitely showed up, but the rest of the top guys (including Giroux) needed to do more. They were 0-for-3 in the game, and 2-for-21 in the series with both goals coming in Game 2.
Neuvirth can’t be Superman again
Michal Neuvirth stole a pair of playoff games for the Flyers in 2016, but he couldn’t come up with another pair here in 2018. He had a great performance to win Game 5, and had a few key saves in Game 6, but gave up seven goals on 27 shots in the 8-5 loss.
The majority of the goals came off of turnovers or missed coverages in front, but it’s tough to score five goals and still lose by three (or even two, without the empty-netter). Neuvirth had a big save on Sheary in the first period to keep the game tied at 2, but that was the only really timely save he came up with.
It’s unfortunate for Neuvirth, because he wasn’t given much help in front of him, but there were a few he could have stopped.
Here’s a quick rundown of the goals as a reminder (trigger warning).
- Crosby gets around Filppula, scores on rebound
- Giroux turnover in neutral zone, Hagelin uncovered in front
- Gudas turnover, two-on-one
- Gudas turnover, deflection
- Provorov turnover
- Guentzel shot after Couturier tripped
He couldn’t come up with a big save on any of the turnovers or quick goals (two in 47 seconds, two in 10 seconds) that ended up being the difference. Neuvirth can get some blame for the first, fourth, and sixth goals, but it doesn’t lie solely on his shoulders.
Author note: It’s been a fun ride this season writing 5 Storylines for each game. I put it upon myself to write in-depth, analytical articles for each game this season (and then some), and I hope you got something out of it. Thanks for following along this season and keep an eye out for some offseason columns and more.
Any and all feedback is appreciated. I can be reached on Twitter (@RGilbertSOP) or leave a comment below.
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