The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to end the Philadelphia Flyers’ season and move into Round 2 but squandered their chance. Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 and Sean Couturier made a triumphant return to the lineup with a goal 58 minutes into the game.
The Penguins’ plans have to wait for Game 6, Sunday because the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-2 in Game 5, Friday at PPG Paints Arena.
If you needed a Red Bull to get through the first period, you weren’t alone. The Penguins also slept through the first period. They had only five shots on goal.
“We took a while to get into it,” said Sidney Crosby.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol made the brave choice to start third-string goalie Neuvirth. The Flyers were rewarded. Neuvirth yielded a couple goals he should have stopped but was otherwise tall in net. He made good saves and provided a sense of calm which typical starting goalie Brian Elliott has not.
Funny things happen when a team isn’t frustrated by its goalie.
Hakstol also inserted grinder Dale Weise into the lineup. Weise had four hits, and the Flyers dished 48 checks, which is a far cry from the soft play in the first four games of the series.
The Penguins had good offensive pushes in the second and third periods but were also sloppy in their own zone. They passed up shots and fumbled the resulting passes.
The Penguins looked like a team which didn’t believe it could lose. Details, urgency and the grit which carried them in Game 3 and Game 4 were missing for large stretches.
Yes, the Penguins had chances but it was not often a coordinated, smooth attack. Big opportunities were followed by big mistakes.
Penguins Power Play: C-
0 for 5. And, the unit yielded the short-handed tally at the end of the second period which effectively gave the Flyers CPR.
Mike Sullivan felt the unit was greedy — long shifts, they passed up shots and didn’t move their feet enough. He was correct. The “extra pass” burned the Penguins as those passes failed to connect.
The power play did establish zone time, so they avoided a ‘D’ grade, but results matter and the power play was a net negative.
Phil Kessel: F
Kessel was just shy of a hot mess on Friday. On the fateful power play towards the end of the second period, his attempted cross-ice pass through two Flyers at the blue line never had a chance. Instead, it led to the game-tying short-handed goal.
Kessel and Evgeni Malkin confirmed Sullivan’s fears the pair would pass too much and shoot too little.
Kessel had zero shots on goal and four giveaways. On a second-period power play, he fanned on a one-timer which was a sure goal. He missed the net on three other attempts.
It just was a bad night at the office.
Derick Brassard: B+
Brassard, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust were very good. Stick tap to Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Matt Gajtka wrote that Rust was the key to unlocking Brassard (this writer long wrote and said the Kessel-Brassard duo was hurting both players, too).
Brassard had a game-high eight shots and a team-high four hits. The third line was strong. Rust capped the Penguins furious charge in the second period with a goal. Brassard and Sheary assisted.
Sean Couturier: A++
Couturier’s return lifted the Flyers. Hockey players are nuts. The injured center played less than 17 minutes, but somewhat fittingly got the game-winning goal. Couturier also had positive Corsi rating (plus-5, 13-8)
Penguins fans may not be happy but respect should be given.
Penguins Coaches: D
Couturier was injured but played nearly 17 minutes. The Penguins allowed Couturier to see much of his ice against the Penguins third and fourth lines.
Why?! With the home change, the Penguins coaches should have buried the hobbled center with a steady diet of Crosby and Malkin.
Olli Maatta also was not at his best but the coaches predominantly rolled with four defensemen (More on this coming before Game 6). Jamie Oleksiak was physical and made a pair of pinches which kept the offensive heat on the Flyers in the second period and culminated in Rust’s goal.
As a result, a very avoidable Game 6 awaits. The Flyers have confidence. They’ll be on home ice. And have nothing to lose. That, dear readers, is a dangerous cocktail.