The Philadelphia Flyers put together a great team effort to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5. They were on the ropes after back-to-back embarrassing losses on home ice, but they aren’t done yet.
Sean Couturier returned to the lineup and had a gutsy performance while battling an injury, while Valtteri Filppula filled in admirably on the top line. Michal Neuvirth got his first start of the series and turned in 30 saves for a 4-2 victory.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ win in Game 5.
Filppula fills in admirably, owns Letang
Valtteri Filppula has been on the decline this year after a solid end to last season with the Flyers. He started as the second-line center, remained there for a while, but slid all the way down to the fourth line at times late in the season. The veteran centerman’s best days were clearly behind him as he played out the last year on his contract.
His performance in the first four games of the playoffs wasn’t much better. He was on the third line for the first three games, then got bumped up to the second line with Couturier out for Game 4. Couturier returned to the lineup for Game 5, but was limited due to his injury. Therefore, Filppula got a promotion to the top line. To most, it seemed like a death sentence for the Flyers.
Filppula put all of those demons behind him with his best game of the season in Game 5. Hell, it was probably his best game as a Flyer and his best game in the last few years. He had a fire lit under him and he filled in admirably on the top line.
The veteran had a hand in both of the Flyers’ first two goals. He entered the zone and helped win a battle behind the net on the opening goal, then got a goal of his own while shorthanded late in the second period.
The Flyers and Penguins were both feeling the game out a bit in the first period, then the top line struck. Claude Giroux carried the puck over the blue line in the center of the ice and dished it to Filppula coming down the left side. He made a move around Kris Letang to cut into the slot, flubbed the puck, but got it back from Letang and sent it wide. But he didn’t give up on the play. He followed the puck behind the net, tied up Jake Guentzel not once but twice, and the second time allowed Jake Voracek to dig the puck out and feed Giroux for the one-time goal.
Filppula couldn’t get a shot on net from the slot, but he kept at it and it it’s that type of determination and effort that is needed in the playoffs. It’s the exact reason he scored his shorthanded goal as well.
Phil Kessel entered the zone and tried to send a cross-ice pass to Sidney Crosby, but Filppula read it and stole it to go the other way. He led the rush with Jori Lehtera joining him, and dropped the puck back to his winger and drove the net. Lehtera fired a shot that Murray couldn’t handle, while Filppula snuck around Letang whacked at the puck, and put it home through Murray’s five-hole.
Those were the two most important points of Filppula’s night, but his third one put an exclamation mark on an already great game. With 30 seconds left and the goalie pulled, Filppula chipped the puck up along the boards to clear the zone. He then chased down Letang back into his own zone, forced Justin Schultz to pass it back as well, then pressured Letang one more time to force the turnover to Matt Read for the empty-net goal.
Filppula stickhandled around Letang to help create the opening goal to get the Flyers the lead, then shifted momentum and tied the game back up as he snuck around Letang to get the Flyers back into it. The Penguins then had one last chance in the final minute with the goalie pulled, but Filppula pressured Letang put an end to that.
Not only did he have the goals, but he had a distinct advantage in the puck possession department as well. Filppula had the most defensive-zone starts (eight) of any Flyers forward, while starting just three shifts in the offensive zone and nine shifts in the neutral zone. He still managed a 50% corsi for (11-11 shot attempts), making him one of just six Flyers with a corsi for of 50% or higher
Filppula played 9:22 of his 14:30 at 5v5 against Crosby, with the Flyers and Penguins each getting seven shots attempts, six shots on goal, and one goal during that time. He played 9:31 against Letang, with the Flyers out-attempting (9-5, 64.29% CF), out-shooting (6-3), and out-chancing (7-3, 3-0 high-danger) the Penguins during that time.
This was the Valtteri Filppula game.
Couturier’s gutsy effort to be a difference maker
Sean Couturier knew the Flyers were facing elimination and he would not be stopped. He wouldn’t be stopped from playing, he wouldn’t be stopped from making a difference, and he wouldn’t be stopped from scoring. Couturier was clearly limited due to his injury, meaning he would play on the third line with Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds, but he gutted it out in a courageous effort to help his team force Game 6.
Couturier was limited, and his 5v5 ice time reflected that. He played just 9:16 at 5v5, which was less than any Flyers forward in the top-nine. However, his ice time on the penalty kill was huge. He played 5:31 on the penalty kill, giving him a total of 16:55 while playing on an injured knee. That was behind only Filppula (20:16) among forwards, while Claude Giroux (16:49) was just behind him.
He was easily one of the best Flyers on the ice in Game 5. He led the Flyers with a 61.9% corsi for (13-8 shot attempts), played 5:31 on the penalty kill to stymy the Penguins, and then scored the game-winning goal for the cherry on top of a fantastic game.
Couturier’s line was on a mission all game long. He conceded just eight shot attempts against at 5v5, with just three of them getting on net. Both of those marks were the least allowed of any Flyer.
The Penguins tried different matchups, but couldn’t really figure much out. Only Letang (Penguins had 7-6 shot attempt advantage in 3:33) seemed to figure it out, but that was also the matchup that was on the ice for the game-winning goal. Couturier had a 10-2 shot attempt advantage in 3:38 against Olli Maatta, and 3-1 against Jamie Oleksiak.
Couturier is the Flyers’ most important player in any series. In Game 4 we saw what can happen without him, and Friday night’s Game 5 showed the difference that he can make, even if he’s not 100%.
Neuvirth steals a game in spot start
Michal Neuvirth unexpectedly got the start in Game 5 after all signs pointed to Brian Elliott getting the nod. Elliott started the first four games in this series, but if the Flyers want a goalie to steal a game, it’s going to be Neuvirth.
It’s not that often that a goalie can give up two soft goals and still steal a game, but Neuvirth did exactly that on Friday night. Both of the Penguins’ goals were shots that Neuvirth should have stopped, but he was able to stop every other shot thrown his way to earn the victory.
His biggest save of the night came at the biggest time. The Flyers had just scored to take a late lead, and the Penguins pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. Sidney Crosby was set up on the backdoor and tried to jam one home, but Neuvirth absolutely robbed him with a glove save to preserve the lead.
Neuvirth made 30 saves on 32 shots in his first start of the series. This came after he allowed two goals on 12 shots in relief on Wednesday night. It was a quick turnaround for Neuvirth, who isn’t new to this situation.
Just two years ago the Flyers turned to Neuvirth after going down 3-0 in the series. He made 31 saves on 32 shots for a 2-1 win in Game 4, then shut out the Capitals with a 44-save effort in Game 5. He has the ability to steal a game, and he showed that against the Penguins.
On a fun side note, Michal Neuvirth has had a lot of success on 4/20.
2011 vs. NYR: 36 saves on 39 shots in 4-3 2OT win to take 3-1 series lead
2016 vs. WSH: 31 saves on 32 shots in 2-1 win to keep series alive
2018 vs. PIT: 30 saves on 32 shots in 4-2 win to keep series alive
Penalty kill shuts down Penguins
Special teams play has been the difference in every game this series. In Games 1, 3, and 4, it gave the Penguins the win. In Games 2 and 5, things swung in the Flyers’ favor.
The penalty kill came up huge for the Flyers to shut down the Penguins. The Flyers were shorthanded five times, and the only goal to be scored during those 10 minutes was Filppula’s shorthanded tally. That’s impressive.
The Flyers were shorthanded a few too many times, obviously, but not all of the calls were warranted. Three or four (arguably) of them were, but Filppula’s tripping penalty was a joke, and the referees missed a few calls against the Penguins that should’ve went the Flyers way.
Nevertheless, special teams play was huge for the Flyers in Game 5 against the Penguins. It starts with the goaltending, as Neuvirth stopped all four shots he faced, but the skaters in front of him did a great job to limit the Penguins’ chances and keep them out of the zone at times.
The power play opportunities were at crucial times, too. The Penguins had a chance to open the scoring in the first, a chance to even things up in the second, two more chances to extend the lead in the second, and a chance to take the lead early in the third thanks to the phantom trip on Filppula.
The Penguins are 5-for-15 on the power play in their three wins this series, and 0-for-9 in their two losses. Stay out of the box, or stymy Pittsburgh’s power play, and you have a great chance to win.
Hakstol pushes the right buttons
After two horrible performances and efforts on home ice, something had to change for the Flyers. Dave Hakstol had tried different things in the first few games of the series to shake things up, but nothing had worked as of yet. Right when he had some good line combinations, Couturier gets hurt. When he gameplans for a good start to a game in Game 3, the Flyers can’t score and the Penguins capitalize on their limited chances.
Hakstol might have been feeling the heat of the hot seat again after the two home losses, but he pressed the right buttons to get a Game 5 win. On paper they don’t look right at all, and they wouldn’t work over the course of a season or even the course of a series, but after not getting anything out of his players with some decent looks and combinations, he went off the wall and it worked in Game 5.
Filppula should never be a top-line center in the NHL, but Hakstol put him between Giroux and Voracek on the top line and it worked. It wasn’t just his wingers carrying him either. All three players had significant contributions to the line.
Couturier was healthy enough to play, but couldn’t play at a high level for a full game. Hakstol put him on the third line with a hard-working guy in Laughton who can take some defensive responsibility, and Simmonds who has struggled. That gave the top three lines different looks, and it made the Penguins try different matchups.
Either Giroux and Voracek, Konecny and Patrick, or Couturier and Simmonds would get an easier matchup. Filppula gets sheltered by Giroux and Voracek, the second line of Konecny, Patrick, and Raffl took some bumps, but the third-line wingers (Laughton and Simmonds) were pulled up by Couturier as their pivot.
Couturier took advantage, as did the top line, and it paid off for Hakstol.
This was a balanced attack that worked, opposed to the one in the first few games that didn’t. The big difference was the quality of the player moved down. Obviously you want to see Couturier play the most minutes he can, and he’ll likely be able to play more on Sunday, but having a two-way force like him lower in the lineup creates matchup problems.
This was a full team effort up and down the lineup, and the coach deserves some credit for that. He put the right guys in the right spots to try to get a win, and they performed to get the win to keep their season alive.
There are still baffling decisions being made, and this series has shone a lot of light on Hakstol’s flaws, but he did something right to get a win in Game 5.
(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
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