PHILADELPHIA — Jake Guentzel scored and kept scoring, and the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to rally from a two-goal deficit, calm a ferocious Wells Fargo Arena, and finally crack Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth for an 8-5, Game 6, series-clinching win.
The Penguins scored five unanswered goals, including four straight by Guentzel in the final 27 minutes to quell the Flyers and advance to Round 2.
Matt Murray called the game “far from perfect,” but the Penguins didn’t panic, at least most of them did not. The Flyers appeared headed towards a win and Game 7. Midway through the second period, Flyers winger Scott Laughton beat Murray from over 30 feet, and the Flyers led 4-2.
The Wells Fargo Center was rocking. Flyers fans were ready for raw meat.
But, just over one minute later, Patric Hornqvist and Jake Guentzel cranked up the Penguins forecheck. The duo created a turnover and Hornqvist finished the play. It was the first of five unanswered Penguins goals.
The Penguins cracked the Flyers with speed on the rush. The Penguins used a right-to-left cross-ice pass through the neutral zone which allowed the Penguins left wings to attack with speed. The Flyers defenseman were yielding the red line and the Penguins were using the near wall to exit the zone.
The defenseman often had the left wing headman pass available, or the right wing breakout was able to connect, which avoided the Flyers’ effort to collapse on the puck carrier.
Just two minutes into the game, Sean Couturier beat Murray through the five-hole but the puck trickled short of the goal line. Penguins defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Jamie Oleksiak played a game of “I got it, you take it”, and neither secured the loose puck in the crease before Couturier knocked it over the goal line.
The 6-2 pairing was on the ice for the Flyers second goal, as well. In Game 6, Oleksiak continued to get less ice time. He played just 10:10. Ruhwedel played 14:31.
(By the way, Couturier played Game 5 and 6 with a torn MCL. That performance is one to remember, even if it was against the Penguins.)
Kris Letang … We’ll have Letang’s full explanation of the Couturier cross-checking penalty on PHN Extra. Letang had a good grade before the final 15 minutes. That quickly changed.
Backup goalie Casey DeSmith stretched and prepared in the runway, midway through the second period. That fact probably says enough.
“My gut said to stick with Matt,” said Mike Sullivan. “And I’m glad I did.”
Murray was fighting the puck for most of the game. Each of the Flyers first four goals were stoppable, and two of the four should have been stopped. Andrew MacDonald beat Murray from the point, albeit through a screen. Scott Laughton‘s wrist shot slipped past Murray from the top of the circle.
When Murray is playing well, he is steady, calm and quiet. Murray’s original grade after 40 minutes was a D.
After Murray allowed the fourth goal, the Penguins took over the game. The Flyers didn’t get many shots, and had very few scoring chances until the final minutes of the game. The mid-game mental reset was vital for Murray, who then made big saves when needed in the third period.
The third period upped Murray’s grade to C.
Sean Couturier: A++++
Count me as one of those who will forever be impressed by Couturier’s performance. It was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.
Couturier turned in a playoff performance which will one day get his name in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center. Three goals, two assists…while playing with a torn MCL. In addition to five points Sunday, Couturier scored the game-winner in Game 5.
No matter how much you hate the Flyers, we should all recognize the gritty effort we saw.
As one of the players who deserved a red “F” after Game 5, PHN watched Letang closely. He was active, but not overly aggressive. He was in position, joined the rush at appropriate moments, and was solid. The Penguins would likely trade the high wire act for more of the solid, unspectacular Letang.
The above was written after the second period.
In the third period, Letang compounded a pair of giveaways with a bad penalty; cross-checking Couturier gave the Flyers a four on three power play. Immediately out of the box, Letang rushed deep into the Flyers zone and wildly tripped Couturier, who went flying into the air.
Letang took the puck and set up Guentzel’s game-winning goal. On paper, it looks great. In reality, the Penguins were clinging to a one-goal lead and the Flyers should have received a power play, instead of Guentzel’s goal.
The Flyers were so befuddled, they allowed the Penguins to storm the zone moments later and Guentzel scored again. Oh, how the game could have changed. The next time the call goes against the Penguins, perhaps some of you will remember that sequence.
Letang lost his cool and it very well could have been very costly.
There were times in the game when Phil Kessel looked disinterested but he rebounded in the third. He pounced on Ivan Provorov‘s miscue to tee-up Guentzel for the huge go-ahead goal, 30 seconds into the third period.
Kessel allowed a couple scoring chances because he coasted up ice. Such maneuvers are annoying in December. They can be deadly in April.
The first 30 minutes of Kessel were worth a D, the last 30 minutes were worth a B. So, we handed out a C.
This, hands down, without question, far and away, clearly was Jake Guentzel’s best game as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
Skip past his double goal shift in the third period. Guentzel was a backchecking and forechecking monster, Sunday. His pressure created the Penguins’ third and fourth goal to erase the Flyers deficit. Especially on the fourth goal, Guentzel single-handedly disrupted the Flyers’ breakout plans, won a puck battle, then got a shot on net.
It was a great performance.
Conor Sheary: B+
Several Grade-A scoring chances. He hit a post and created more good looks. Another solid game on both ends of the ice.
Riley Sheahan: B+
The PK was really good. Sheahan was especially strong on the crucial four-on-three kill, after Letang’s penalty. That was the moment the Penguins began to solidify the win.
Zach Aston-Reese: B
Aston-Reese filled in for Carl Hagelin on the second line after Giroux clobbered Hagelin. The rookie had hop in his step and was strong on the wall.