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Rebounds in season opener by Ben Simmons, who also scores 19 points

Stayin’ Alive

Posted by Eric Fisher On April 20

Even at less than 100 percent healthy, Sean Couturier makes a difference.

The addition of Couturier, who missed Game 4 due to a “lower body” injury sustained during a collision with defenseman Radko Gudas during practice, doesn’t close the talent gap with the Penguins, but his presence gives the Flyers a much higher chance of success.

Couturier’s value was evident Friday as he scored the game-winning goal during the Flyers’ 4-2 victory over the host Penguins in Game 5 of their first-round series, which reduced the Flyers’ series deficit to 3-2 and kept them alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 6 is Sunday (3 p.m.) at Wells Fargo Center.

Couturier’s most notable contribution was the game-winning goal with 1:15 remaining in the third period. Couturier made the right decision to move forward and cut off the clearing attempt at the blue line instead of retreating toward the Flyers’ defensive zone. And then he fired a shot that deflected off the leg of Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin and past goalie Matt Murray to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.

But Couturier’s contributions extended far beyond his winning goal. Although he played with the third line and played only 16 minutes, 55 seconds, which is about two-thirds of his average ice time during the first three games of the series, Couturier played approximately 7 minutes while the Flyers were shorthanded. It’s not a coincidence that the vaunted Penguins power play was 0 for 5 with Couturier back in the penalty-killing mix. Couturier’s overall sense of defensive responsibility makes a difference. In the first period, he hustled back to the defensive zone and broke up a pass on an odd-man rush.

But Couturier also provided inspiration. The Flyers looked like a beaten group during a humiliating 5-0 loss on home ice in Game 4. But they displayed more fight Friday. That can’t all be attributed to Couturier, but his presence certainly helped.

Late in the second period, it appeared that things were falling apart. Michal Neuvirth, starting in place of Brian Elliott, allowed two bad goals in less than five minutes, giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead, and the Flyers were shorthanded for the third time in the period. It seemed inevitable that the Penguins would score to take a 3-1 lead as the snowball continued to pick up momentum as it ran over the Flyers.

But the Flyers didn’t fold. Not only did they kill off the penalty, but the scored while shorthanded. Valtteri Filppula dropped the puck for Jori Lehtera after crossing into the offensive zone. Murray stopped Lehtera’s shot, but Filppula drove to the net, beating defenseman Kris Letang (minus-3 for the game) to the net. Murray stopped Filppula’s initial rebound attempt, but the veteran center reached back and pushed the puck past Murray to tie the game.

The Flyers weren’t out of the woods yet. Filppula was whistled for tripping 15 seconds into the third period when a Penguins player basically tripped over his own feet. This gave the Penguins a 5-1 advantage in power plays. The imbalance in penalties was made even more obvious a few minutes later when 6-foot-7, 255-pound Jamie Oleksiak crushed Claude Giroux at center ice away from the play, yet no penalty was called. Instead of wallowing in their misfortune, the Flyers, with Couturier playing a major role, withstood the Penguins’ pressure and killed off the penalty. When no penalty was called on Oleksiak, Gudas took matters into his own hands and fought with the much larger Oleksiak.

Although Gudas was the only one who took the word literally, the Flyers displayed plenty of fight. The two awful goals allowed by Neuvirth — one on which he didn’t completely cover the left post on a wraparound and another shot that went right between his pads — are tough psychological hurdles to overcome. Not only didn’t the team fold, but Neuvirth battled back. He made 30 saves, none of which was bigger than when he snatched Sidney Crosby’s shot from the side of the net with his glove with 50 seconds remaining, preserving the lead that Couturier had provided just 25 seconds earlier.

Gudas led the physical Flyers with seven hits. Ivan Provorov added six hits for the physical Flyers, who had a 48-25 edge in hits. Head coach Dave Hakstol also gave the Flyers a more physical look by reinserting defenseman Robert Hagg and forgotten forward Dale Weise into the lineup.

It also helps not to play from behind against the high-powered Penguins. Giroux gave the Flyers the lead with 2:31 remaining in the first period when Jakub Voracek, who got the puck from Filppula along the boards below the goal line, found Giroux open in the slot for the captain’s first goal of the playoffs. The only time the Flyers trailed was for a 1:30 span during the second period after Jake Guentzel beat Neuvirth with a shot between Neuvirth’s pads and Filppula’s shorthanded goal.

Filppula, who finished with a goal and two assists while filling Couturier’s role on the top line, helped put the game away be creating a turnover that led to Matt Read’s victory-sealing empty-net goal with 18 seconds remaining.

Filppula had a terrific game and this was a true team effort, but it is Couturier, with his contributions and inspiration, who is most responsible for the Flyers still having playoff life this weekend.

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