PITTSBURGH – It must have been a tough call to make but Flyers center Sean Couturier decided to give it a go in Friday night’s Game 5 against the Penguins.
Faced with his team’s possible elimination, Couturier, leg injury and all, took part in both the morning skate and the pre-game warm-ups.
Then, perhaps playing it cautiously, coach Dave Hakstol placed Couturier on a third line, centering Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds.
Normally, Couturier centers the first line with Claude Giroux and a varying cast of characters.
For this game, Valtteri Filppula was moved up into Couturier’s spot, centering Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Couturier took part in the optional morning session at PPG Paints Arena and later said he “felt good.’’
Previously, Couturier had skated twice before that workout and Friday morning he tested himself a little harder, including taking faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere.
“Yeah, I was trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,’’ Couturier told a group of reporters, who chuckled at that comment. “Tough to really test it out but I was just trying to simulate game situations.’’
Obviously, Couturier wanted to get back to the Flyers’ lineup after missing Game 4 due to a Tuesday practice collision with teammate Radko Gudas which left him with a leg injury, the nature of which has not been disclosed.
The word going around is that Couturier suffered some sort of charley horse injury, which can be nagging and affect a player’s strength.
Friday’s skate at least sounded encouraging.
“Felt pretty good,’’ Couturier said. “Felt better than yesterday. You know, we’ll see.’’
Was he optimistic about his chances of playing?
“Still hoping,’’ he said. “I guess I’ll take warmups and see how that goes.’’
The very fact that Couturier was taking faceoffs seemed like a positive step. Faceoffs require putting pressure on the legs, so he wouldn’t be doing those drills if there wasn’t not progress.
“It was more movement today,’’ Couturier reported. “More skating than the last two times. It was a good day.’’
He was asked how much his opinion counted in the final decision.
“I have a big part of the decision,’’ he said. “But talking with the coaching staff, the medical team and see if I can. . .it’s one thing to play, but you have to be able to help the team as well.’’
It’s a very tough decision to make. Couturier wants to play badly, the stakes are high, but he doesn’t want to risk re-injury either.
“I want to be out there with my teammates,’’ he said. “It’s never easy seeing a teammate miss a game due to the injury and that stuff. We’re a tight group, we support each other, it’s nice to see they care about me.’’
Neuvirth starts in goal
Hakstol made another surprise change for Game 5, going to Michal Neuvirth as his starting goaltender.
Neuvirth was making his first start since Feb. 18. He’s been out with a lower-body injury. He did come in to relieve Brian Elliott earlier in the series.
Elliott had started in goal for the first four games of the series.
Neuvirth entered the game with a career playoff goals-against average of 2.00 and a goals-against average of .930.