PHILADELPHIA – It’s safe to say the feeling about Sean Couturier was quite mutual.
At the end of last season, Couturier made it known to the Flyers’ coaching staff and management that he wanted a bigger role with the team.
In turn, the folks making the decisions made it equally clear that if he wanted more responsibility – like a spot on the top line – he would have to earn it.
So Couturier re-committed himself in the summer, came to camp at peak fitness and with a new attitude.
Coach Dave Hakstol rewarded him by moving him to first-line center in captain Claude Giroux’s old spot and Couturier has responded with the best season of his career.
That was on display Tuesday night as Couturier scored a tie-breaking goal with 2:55 to play, sending the Flyers to a come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Wells Fargo Center.
The victory extended the Flyers’ season-high winning streak to four games and gave them their first home win since Nov. 9 (0-4-2).
Couturier took a behind-the-back, between-two-sets-of-legs pass from Giroux and beat goalie Frederik Anderson for his 15th goal, tying his career-high.
Suddenly the Flyers are feeling good about themselves again.
In fact, so good that they were able to rally for their first third-period comeback (now 1-8-2) of the season. They were trailing 2-1 going into the third, but got a goal from Travis Konecny at the 5:36 mark to even the count.
There were shouts and laughs coming from the Flyers’ locker room after the game and no one was smiling more than Couturier.
He was asked about those exit interviews last April with Hakstol and GM Ron Hextall, where his role with the team unofficially changed.
“I think they (the Flyers) have always believed in me,’’ Couturier said. “They’ve seen the potential in me. To get a chance this year, it’s nice but at the same time it’s a lot of hard work, too, in the offseason.
“The message was, if you’re going to play 18, 19 minutes a night, you have to be in good shape and I think this summer I took it pretty seriously. So far it’s paid off.’’
Couturier is showing the kind of skill others believed he always had in his arsenal. The winning goal was a wicked wrist shot that just caught the inside of the far elbow of the goal cage.
“I saw ‘Coots’ in a foot race,’’ Giroux explained. “Usually he doesn’t beat the other guy but he was able to and he had a great shot, too. He’s been playing great hockey and it’s been fun to be on his line.
“I just thought I would put it someplace where he would be able to get it. That was all Coots, a super shot.’’
These are the kinds of finishes that were lacking during the Flyers’ recent 10-game (0-5-5) winless streak.
“The last three games (all wins in western Canada), we had the lead and everyone bought in on how we wanted to play to keep the lead,’’ Giroux said. “We were down a goal (tonight) but there was a feeling we were going to come back.’’
The Flyers are finally getting rewarded for some of the hard work they put in during that 10-game streak, which didn’t produce much in the way of points.
“So many of those games during that skid, they could have gone our way as well,’’ Taylor Leier said. “We all knew that and we knew if we stuck with it, things like the four-game winning streak were going to happen for us.
“It took a while and we worked for our bounces and it’s starting to show.’’
Added Konecny, who made a nice block on an Anderson clear attempt to set up his goal: “We never stopped working hard, even through that stretch of games. It’s finally paying off for us, we’re getting those bounces that we need. When you’re playing well, you roll with it and find ways to win.
The Flyers have won four regulation-time games since February, 2014. . .Flyers have not allowed more than two power plays in five straight games. . .Scott Laughton scored an empty-net goal with 16 seconds to play. . .Giroux opened the scoring with his 13th goal of the season, just one behind last year’s total.