Sean Couturier was the Philadelphia Flyers’ best player in Games 5 and 6 of their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the former, he was a beast on the penalty kill and scored the game-winning goal with a minute to play in regulation. In the latter, he had a hat trick and five total points (factoring in to every single one of the Flyers’ goals) in their 8-5 defeat. He did everything he could have possibly done to try and force a Game 7 in the series.
He did all of that while playing on a torn MCL.
Had this been the regular season that sort of injury probably would have sidelined him for at least four weeks.
Couturier revealed the nature of his injury following the loss on Sunday. He was injured in practice before Game 4 of the series when he was involved in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas. It kept him out of the lineup in what would be a 5-0 loss for the Flyers. He returned for Game 5, and even though he was obviously limited he still played an incredible game.
He was even better on Sunday.
This was a breakthrough season for Couturier as he doubled all of his previous career highs offensively, scoring 31 goals and recording 76 total points.
He is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy which is awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward. It is the first time he is a finalist for the award.
It took until the sixth game but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers finally had their series turn into complete chaos.
The Penguins were able to close out the series on Sunday afternoon with an 8-5 win what was clearly the most physical, chippy, and just downright crazy game of the series.
What made it all so wild? Well let’s go through this piece by piece if we can.
First, the Penguins were trailing by a pair of goals with less than 10 minutes to play in the second period only to rally and tie the game before the intermission, with Jake Guentzel‘s third goal of the playoffs in the final minute being the equalizer.
From there, Guentzel took over, scoring three consecutive goals to open the third period to help the Penguins take a 7-4 lead.
The third goal, the one that completed the hat trick, came moments after the Penguins had to kill off a Kris Letang penalty after he attempted to cross-check Flyers forward Sean Couturier through the Penguins’ net. In any context it would have been a bad, selfish penalty, but given that the Penguins were only leading by one mid-way through the third period of a potential knockout game it was … bad. After coming out of the box Letang appeared to get away with a trip on Sean Couturier, allowing the Penguins to keep possession of the puck and Guentzel to score his third goal of the game.
Just 10 seconds later Guentzel scored again, capping off a 16-minute stretch of hockey where he scored four consecutive goals.
After leading the league in postseason goal scoring a season ago he is now tied for the league lead as of Sunday with his teammate, Sidney Crosby.
Crosby also scored his sixth goal of the playoffs on Sunday.
Including the playoffs, the Penguins played five games in Philadelphia this season and not only won all of them, but scored at least five goals in all of them.
They scored at least five goals in eight of their 10 games against the Flyers this season, losing the only two games they did not top the five-goal mark.
That was just part of the physicality from this game, most of which went uncalled on both sides.
When it came to the actual game, the Penguins needed another offensive outburst in Philadelphia because Sean Couturier did everything in his power to try and single-handedly will his team to a win.
After returning from injury on Friday and scoring the game-winning goal, he recorded five points on Sunday — factoring in all five Flyers goals — and recorded his second career postseason hat trick.
It was not enough because, well, the Flyers just simply did not have an answer for the Penguins’ offense.
Defenseman Radko Gudas had a particularly brutal game and was guilty of costly plays on the two Penguins’ second period goals to tie the game.
They also had more issues in net.
Michal Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Game 5 and played well enough to get the win, making a highlight last minute save on Crosby. He was not anywhere near as good on Sunday giving up seven goals on the 27 shots he faced (the Penguins’ eighth goal was an empty net goal).
The Flyers used three goalies in this series — Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek — while none of them finished with a save percentage higher than .857.
All three of them gave up at least two goals to Crosby.
With that, the Penguins have now won nine consecutive playoff series. They will play the winner of the Washington Capitals-Columbus Blue Jackets series in the second round. They have played the Capitals in the second round in each of the past two seasons. The Capitals lead the series 3-2 entering Game 6 in Columbus on Monday night.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have another opportunity to try and win their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon. If they do it they are going to have to do so without one of their top players, Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin did not take the pre-game warmups and will not be in the lineup after suffering an injury in their Game 5 loss on Friday night.
Here is a a look at the play where he became tangled up with Flyers forward Jori Lehtera in the first period.
Malkin left the game for the remainder of the period only to return for the second. He played the remainder of the game but did not get his regular workload and seemed to be struggling. After the game Penguins coach Mike Sullivan would only say that Malkin was fine.
Obviously he is not fine or he would be in the lineup on Sunday.
Malkin has three goals and two assists in five games this postseason.
Riley Sheahan took pre-game line rushes between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin in place of Malkin, allowing the Penguins to keep the Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary line together as it has played very well in this series.
While the Malkin injury is bad news for the Penguins they will be getting winger Patric Hornqvist back in the lineup after he missed the past two games due to an upper body injury.
Hornqvist is a difference-maker on the Penguins’ power play, a unit that struggled mightily in their Game 5 loss on Friday night, going 0-for-5 while also giving up a shorthanded goal. He will skate on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Calder Trophy. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”
This year’s rookie class was dynamic and while Barzal, Boeser and Keller get to go to Las Vegas, you could easily make cases for Yanni Gourde (25 goals, 64 points), Kyle Connor (rookie best 31 goals) and Charlie McAvoy (32 points, 22:09 TOI), among others, to be included.
The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show on June 20.
The Case for Mathew Barzal: The Islanders forward went the first five games of the season without a point, but once he got going, he was an offensive force. Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). One of the highlights of Barzal’s rookie resume is that he recorded three 5-point games, making him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. The last to do it? Joe Malone in the NHL’s first season of 1917-18.
The Case for Brock Boeser: Injury cut short Boeser’s season, allowing him only to play 62 games, but it was still an impressive rookie campaign for the owner of the one of the league’s top flows. Boeser finished second in goals with 29 and fifth in points with 55. He led all rookies in power play goals (10) and was tied for second in power play points (23). In January, Boeser joined Mario Lemieux as the only rookies to take home MVP honors at the NHL All-Star Game one night after taking home the Accuracy Shooting title during the NHL Skills Competition in Tampa.
The Case for Clayton Keller: The Coyotes forward finished tops in average ice time among rookie forwards (18:05) and shots (212), second in points (65) and assists (42), third in power play points (20) and fifth in goals (23). He also led Arizona in goals, assists and points and recorded a 10-game point streak, which tied him for the third-longest in franchise history.