That was evident at many points during the season and through the first five games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup. But in the decisive game 6, it was even more evident as the Penguins took the Flyers best punches, but skated away with an 8-5 win to take the series, 4-2.
The Flyers held a 4-2 lead in the game with about 30 minutes remaining, but couldn’t hold off the dangerous Pittsburgh offense that blitzed the Flyers in the second half of the game. Sean Couturier’s second career playoff hat trick, and two more assists, wasn’t enough as the Flyers squandered three power play chances and watched seven goals get by Michal Neuvirth to end their season.
Andrew MacDonald got things going with a thunderous hit on Sidney Crosby and game 6 was off an running as the raucous home crowd got a chance to roar early.
That start would propel the Flyers to an early 1-0 lead after a helter-skelter play in the Pittsburgh zone. Scott Laughton threw a centering pass to Wayne Simmonds, who was denied in front but the puck squeaked past Matt Murray and ended up careening out in front for Sean Couturier to ram home.
Just 2:15 in the Flyers would strike first, and the team scoring first has won each game in the series.
Cooooooooooooots puts the Flyers up 1-0 pic.twitter.com/jpcm2eWFsH— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
The Penguins would respond with a familiar face, and a thorn in the side of the Flyers: Sidney Crosby.
Kris Letang’s point shot glanced off the pad of Neuvirth and right to the stick of Crosby to deposit in the back of the net to make it 1-1 at the 6:30 mark.
But they weren’t done there, Carl Hagelin would score just 47 seconds later to give the Penguins the 2-1 lead. The Flyers’ defense lost Hagelin in front of the crease and he was all alone to take a pass from Phil Kessel and beat Neuvirth.
Andrew MacDonald had a response with 4:12 left in the period, firing a laser past the blocker side of Murray to even things up at 2-2. It’s his second of the playoffs and a welcome sight as the Flyers had started to get a little gun shy shooting the puck after Couturier’s opening goal.
Late in the period the Penguins nearly took the lead back, but Neuvirth was able to get across his crease and get just enough of a Conor Sheary shot with 2:30 left to keep things tied. Amid the craziness Scott Laughton was called for interference to give Pittsburgh the first man-advantage of the game.
The Flyers would survive the first 1:25 of the penalty to close out the first period with 35 seconds of carryover time to begin the second for the Penguins.
After killing off the remainder of the Penguins’ power play, it was again time for Sean Couturier to shine.
The Selke Trophy finalist broke in on a breakaway and deked out Matt Murray to give the Flyers back the lead at 3-2. The goal came just 40 seconds into the period with Matt Read picking up the lone assist. After missing game 4, Couturier has returned at far less than 100% but still remains a difference maker for the Flyers.
SEAN COUTURIER. WHAT A FREAKING MOVE. FLYERS LEAD 3-2. pic.twitter.com/LdDYjIgW25— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
Pittsburgh would try and respond quickly, but Bryan Rust was denied point-blank by Neuvirth to preserve the lead. It was a momentum save that Neuvirth and the Flyers had to have just after taking the lead back.
A strong shift from Nolan Patrick nearly gave the Flyers a two-goal lead, but Michael Raffl missed the net on a one-timer. On the next shift Matt Murray got just enough of a Claude Giroux chance to keep it out as well as the Flyers surged for another goal.
With a little over 10 minutes left in the period Giroux absolutely laid out Carl Hagelin behind the Penguins net. Phil Kessel sought retribution but was called for roughing to put the Flyers on the power play instead.
Claude Giroux ROCKS Carl Hagelin pic.twitter.com/kxSsFnWNYc— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
Despite the failed power play, Scott Laughton would give the Flyers a two-goal lead with 7:46 left, beating Murray to the short side with a wrist shot from the left circle. It’s Laughton’s first of the playoffs and the first of his career in the postseason. Sean Couturier picked up the lone assist, his fourth point of the afternoon.
Scott Laughton puts the Flyers up two with his first career playoff goal! pic.twitter.com/2eBJc70wHQ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
The two-goal lead would be short-lived as Pittsburgh would respond with Patric Hornqvist back in the lineup and onto the scoresheet with 6:25 left in the second to make it 4-3 Flyers. Radko Gudas couldn’t clear the puck out of his own zone and the Penguins made him pay.
After another strong round of pressure the Penguins would find an equalizer with 53 seconds left in the second. Jake Guentzel poked home a rebound to tie things up at 4-4 after another failed clearing attempt from Radko Gudas.
Just 30 seconds into the third it would be the Penguins to take the lead back at 5-4, with Phil Kessel setting up Jake Guentzel for the go-ahead goal after a disastrous turnover from Ivan Provorov right in front of Neuvirth. It the third-straight goal for Pittsburgh after the Flyers took a 4-2 lead with eight minutes left in the second period.
As has been the case far too often in this series, a bad defensive zone turnover came back to burn the Flyers.
Brian Dumoulin would give the Flyers a chance to even things back up with a delay of game penalty with 13:45 left for firing a puck over the glass. The Flyers didn’t capitalize on their first power play in the game.
The Flyers’ power play was not a good one, to say the least. The puck was on the outside for the bulk of the time and failed to generate a single shot on Matt Murray.
With Voracek and Guentzel off for matching minors, Sean Couturier would earn the Flyers another power play with 9:23 left after a great individual effort along the wall that resulted in a Kris Letang cross-checking call.
With nothing doing on yet another Flyers man-advantage, the Penguins would deliver the crushing blow in the form of Jake Guentzel’s third goal of the game to push the Pittsburgh lead to 6-4 with 7:14 left in the third.
But Guentzel wasn’t done there, notching his fourth of the game just 12 seconds later to all but seal the Flyers’ fate with the Penguins’ lead at 7-4 and less than seven minutes remaining.
With Michal Neuvirth off for an extra attacker, the Flyers would get one back with Sean Couturier ramming home a rebound on the doorstep with 2:53 left. It’s his second career playoff hat trick, with both coming at the hands of the Penguins.
Coots scores his 2nd career playoff hat trick. Flyers are within two. pic.twitter.com/Er0OvUaLjU— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
Despite another late flurry from the Flyers, Bryan Rust would find the empty net to close out not only game 6 but also this series. The final would be 8-5 as the Penguins win the series 4-2 and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the winner of the Columbus/Washington series.