PITTSBURGH – Sean Couturier did what he could to deal with the pain in his left leg, then hopped over the boards and let the adrenaline that comes with playoff hockey take care of the rest.
The Philadelphia Flyers are still alive as a result.
Barely 72 hours removed from a frightening collision with a teammate in practice threatened to end his season, Couturier returned for Game 5 and threaded a shot through traffic that slipped past Matt Murray and into the net with 1:15 left to lift the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night to send the series back to Philadelphia.
“I think it might have hit one of their guys,” Couturier said. “Lucky bounce, but we’ll take them.”
The Flyers certainly need them. They still trail 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday but counterpunched effectively against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Valtteri Filppula’s short-handed goal tied it late in the second period shortly after the Penguins had taken the lead and Couturier’s second goal of the playoffs was a knuckler that deflected off Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin and by a surprised Murray.
Claude Giroux picked up his first goal of the series and Matt Read added an empty-netter. Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 shots, including a diving stop on the doorstep to deny Penguins star Sidney Crosby with 50 seconds left.
“I like playing in the playoffs, like facing the pressure,” Neuvirth said after making his first start in more than two months in place of struggling Brian Elliott. “But it’s only one game and we came here to win a hockey game. We did that. Now we have to win the next one.”
Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins. Murray made 21 saves but Pittsburgh missed a chance to close out the Flyers thanks in part to a slow start and a power play that was the best in the league during the regular season went 0 for 5.
“I thought the second and third (periods) we were much better,” Crosby said. “We ended up making a couple mistakes that ended up in our net.”
Mistakes that injected some actual tension into a series devoid of it coming in. The first four games were blowouts on the scoreboard if not always on the ice, three of them ending with the Flyers skating off the ice wondering what they needed to do to keep pace with cross-state rivals.
Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol, perhaps fighting for his job, made his first significant change in an effort to keep his team’s season alive, giving Neuvirth his first playoff start in nearly two years after Elliott couldn’t shake out of a funk that saw him pulled in Game 1 and again in Game 4.
The Flyers also Couturier back to center the third line just three days after teammate Radko Gudas accidentally took him out during a drill in practice that forced Couturier to watch Pittsburgh’s clinical 5-0 Game 4 romp from the press box.
There was no need for change in Pittsburgh, which has developed a killer instinct under coach Mike Sullivan it lacked at times earlier in the Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era. The Penguins came in 8-5 in potential close-out games since Sullivan took over in December 2015, including a 5-2 mark at home.
Make it 5-3.
Giroux, a non-factor through much of the series, gave Philadelphia the lead 17:29 into the first when he found some space in the slot and took a pretty feed from behind the Pittsburgh net by Jakub Voracek to pump a shot by Murray.
The Penguins replied with two goals in a 4:45 span in the second for the first lead change of the series. Bryan Rust beat Neuvirth with a wrap around 12 minutes into the second for his ninth career goal in a potential elimination game. Guentzel then took a feed from Crosby and slipped it between Neuvirth’s legs to put Pittsburgh in front.
The Flyers, for the first time since Game 2, responded. Now Philadelphia has to do it again at home, a place where the Penguins outscored the Flyers 10-1 while rolling in Games 3 and 4.
“We have to keep battling next game and play the with same kind of mentality,” Couturier said. “It was a road game. We didn’t put a show on, but we kept it tight and found a way to win.”
NOTES: Penguins F Patric Hornqvist missed his second straight game due to an upper-body injury. Hornqvist did skate earlier Friday and remains day-to-day. … Malkin missed the final 4 minutes of the first period after Philadelphia’s Jori Lehtera fell on him when the two got tangled in the corner. Malkin returned to start the second period.
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