The Flyers’ 2017-18 season has been one wild ride, and that ride isn’t over just yet, folks.
Sean Couturier scored with 1:15 remaining in the third to break a 2-2 deadlock and Matt Read added an empty netter with 17 seconds left as the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-2 to stay alive and force a game 6 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Michal Neuvirth was fantastic in the third period to hold the Penguins at bay long enough for Couturier to save the day and help extend the Flyers’ season. Couturier missed Game 5 after suffering a lower-body injury in practice and wasn’t close to 100% in this one but was still healthy enough to help the cause dramatically. Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots, the last of which denying Sidney Crosby in the crease with 50 seconds left to preserve the win.
The teams will be back at it on Sunday afternoon with Game 6 from the Wells Fargo Center. Though the defending back-to-back champions outscored the Flyers 10-1 in the two games in Philadelphia in Games 3 and 4, the pressure starts to build for the champs the longer the underdog Flyers can hang around in this series.
Neuvirth, making his first start in the series, came up with a massive save on Jake Guentzel at the 7:02 mark, and a big one as the Flyers would head to the power play not long after thanks to an interference call on Dominik Simon.
The Flyers wouldn’t be able to generate anything on the man-advantage, making it 11-straight kills for the Penguins over the last three games. Then, as has been the case far too often in this series, the Flyers would return to shoot themselves in the foot with a bench minor for too many men at the 10:04 mark.
Like the Flyers’ power play, nothing was doing for the Penguins either as both penalty kills got off to a good start. Neuvirth was required to make a save on Evgeni Malkin, but otherwise the Flyers’ penalty kill did a nice job containing the puck.
Back in the lineup after a one-game absence, Couturier was noticeable early and a huge boost. He got free with 5:16 left in the period on a partial 2-on-1 with Wayne Simmonds but was denied by the glove hand of Matt Murray.
With 2:31 left it would be the Flyers’ captain to break the ice, and in more ways that one. It’s Claude Giroux’s first goal in 11 playoff games and his first of the series to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. He got a great pass out front from Jake Voracek and ripped home the one-timer past Murray with authority.
Claude Giroux, noted good hockey player, puts the Flyers up 1-0 in Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/9Vp8YAiRRP— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 20, 2018
Giroux’s tally would be the lone marker of the first period as the Flyers also took the edge in shots by a count of 9-5.
Nolan Patrick and Michael Raffl nearly hooked up less than two minutes into the second to give the Flyers a two-goal lead, but the rebound off Patrick’s slap shot alluded Raffl as the puck glanced off Matt Murray’s pad and out of harms way jumping over Raffl’s stick.
At the 4:35 mark both Brandon Manning and Evgeni Malkin would go off for matching minors to open up the ice with some 4-on-4 action. The initial penalty was to Manning, but Malkin couldn’t resist getting in an extra shot to nullify the Penguins’ power play.
Following the 4-on-4 Malkin would break out from the penalty box and roar through the Flyers defense. The problem was that Shayne Gostisbehere slashed him to put the Pittsburgh power play on the ice at the 6:42 mark with a chance to even the score up.
After a solid kill from the Flyers, Conor Sheary beat Neuvirth but found iron as the post came up with a massive save for the veteran goaltender. Andrew MacDonald provided the screen in front as Neuvirth never saw the shot.
But the Penguins’ pressure kept coming and they would be rewarded for the effort before long. Bryan Rust won a puck battle along the wall and wheeled around behind the Flyers net, tucking a wrap-around past Neuvirth to tie things up at 1-1 with 8:00 left in the second. Pittsburgh wore down the Flyers over the course of a few minutes and took advantage, something they’ve done all series.
With things even at 4-on-4 after minors to Zach Aston-Reese and Andrew MacDonald, the Penguins would grab a power play as Shayne Gostisbehere wrapped up Sidney Crosby with 6:41 left. It would leave the Penguins 34 seconds of 4-on-3 power play time.
Great penalty kill work from Radko Gudas and Sean Couturier would send the Penguins away, however. The three-man unit along with Ivan Provorov closed down passing lanes and got key clears to keep things tied at 1-1 in a key spot.
Things wouldn’t stay tied for much longer, however, as Jake Guentzel would beat Neuvirth through the five-hole from the left circle with 3:15 left in the second to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead. It’s his second of the series and another one that Neuvirth would like to have back.
Just 17 seconds later Aston-Reese would break in alone, but was denied by Neuvirth this time. Gudas did hook Aston-Reese on the play to put the Penguins right back on the power play with plenty of time left in the second to make it a two-goal lead.
Instead it would be the Flyers to even things up at 2-2 with a rare shorthanded goal. Jori Lehtera and Valtteri Filppula would hook up to beat Murray with 1:25 left in the frame. Lehtera got the puck to the net and it appeared to glance both Filppula and Kris Letang then through the legs of Murray.
FLIPADELPHIA. TIE GAME. pic.twitter.com/CkonxFbEZj— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 21, 2018
Less than a minute into a pivotal third period it would be Filppula off for tripping, just 15 seconds into the frame in fact. Replay looked as though the Penguin was falling to the ice on his own accord, but he then took Voracek with him only to have a Flyer visit the penalty box.
On the ensuing power play Neuvirth would come up with a pair of dandy saves on Malkin to keep things tied. Though Pittsburgh controlled play in the offensive zone for the entire two minutes, the Flyers were able to survive thanks in large part to their goaltender.
Radko Gudas and Jamie Oleksiak would tussle at the 4:47 mark after Oleksiak ran over Claude Giroux at the other end of the ice. Gudas took note and sought some revenge. Giroux hit the deck hard but stayed on the bench after getting off the ice slowly.
The Flyers would spend the next few minutes on life support, but continued to strive despite few forays into the Penguins’ zone. Neuvirth stood tall on as the Pittsburgh chances mounted his way.
With 3:43 left in regulation it would be Neuvirth again to shut the door as Derick Brassard pounced on a rebound in front but denied by the Flyers netminder. The Pittsburgh chance followed a spin-o-rama effort by Raffl at the other end that was met by Matt Murray.
Back in the lineup and back on the scoresheet Sean Couturier would beat Murray with 1:15 left to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead late in the third. Couturier kept in a puck at the Pittsburgh blue line and fired a wrist shot off Brian Dumoulin and past Murray.
SEAN COUTURIER GIVES THE FLYERS THE LEAD WITH ONLY 1:15 LEFT IN THE GAME. pic.twitter.com/NEL6gI1vvk— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 21, 2018
Murray would head to the bench with 58 seconds left and Pittsburgh would get a great chance, but Neuvirth would rob Crosby on the doorstep with his glove hand to preserve the lead. It was Neuvirth’s 30th save of the game and a massive one on the heels of Couturier’s go-ahead goal.
Matt Read would add the icing with an empty net goal with 17.3 seconds left to push the lead to 4-2 and seal a game 5 road win for the Flyers. The win staves off elimination and forces a game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.