PITTSBURGH – Claude Giroux said the other day if the Flyers were going down, they would be going down swinging.
Well, Friday night they came out swinging and they didn’t go down.
A goal by Sean Couturier with 1:15 to play in regulation time broke a 2-2 tie and sent the Flyers to a 4-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena, keeping them alive in the first round of this best-of-seven playoff series.
Facing elimination, the Flyers now trail 3-2 in the series, which returns for Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Couturier, who suffered a leg injury in practice on Tuesday, wasn’t even sure he would play in this game.
But play he did.
And his long shot, which appeared to go off the leg of defenseman Brian Dumoulin and past goalie Matt Murray, proved the difference.
Matt Read scored an empty net goal with 17 seconds to play.
Couturier’s effort was one for the ages. He wasn’t even sure if he could make it to the ice, much less be a hero.
“I felt good once I got going,’’ he said. “The emotions, the adrenaline kind of takes over. Just trying to do whatever I could to help.
“During warm-ups I started feeling good. Just felt good enough to go and give it a try. It was well worth it.’’
Couturier believes the Flyers have maintained belief in themselves and it shows.
“We’ve battled all year,’’ he said. “It’s the same type of effort tonight. We have to keep battling the next game, same kind of mentality.’’
Somehow, the Flyers survived a one-sided second period and came out of it with a 2-2 tie.
Philadelphia handed the Penguins three power-play opportunities but held Pittsburgh scoreless and actually came out of the trio of situations with a goal to tie the score at 2-2.
With time running out in the second, Jori Lehtera got off a hard shot on Murray. The Penguin goalie stopped the initial blast but the rebound hopped out a couple feet and Valtteri Filppula jammed it into the net with 1:45 left in the period.
The Flyers scored only three shorthanded goals during the regular season, tied for 30th in the NHL.
Philadelphia was outshot by a 15-5 margin for the period but surprise starting goaltender Michal Neuvirth was at his best for these 20 minutes.
Neuvirth seems to play his best hockey in these pressure situations.
He entered the game with a 2.00 goals-against average and .933 save percentage for his postseason career.
The Flyers still remember how he shut out Washington in Game 5 two years go. This game was a little like that one.
“I was battling the full 60 minutes,’’ he said. “We had a great first period, took some penalties in the second but finished strong.’’
What seems to bring out the best of him in these situations?
“I like playing in the playoffs,’’ he said. “I like facing the pressure.’’
Neuvirth made a key save on Sidney Crosby after the Penguins went for a sixth attacker in the final minute.
Neuvirth drew praise from Claude Giroux.
“He made some huge saves,’’ Giroux said. “When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.’’
The Flyers got off to a good start in the first period, thanks to Giroux, who ended an 11-game playoff goal drought.
Filppula did some hard work behind the net and Voracek relayed the puck to Giroux at the right hash marks for a shot past Murray at 17:29.
Pittsburgh came out with a lot of energy in the second period and tied the score at the 12-minute mark on a goal by Bryan Rust. Rust beat Read in a puck battle in the corner, skated behind the net and jammed in a shot before Neuvirth could slide over.
The Penguins went ahead at 16:45. Jake Guentzel took a lead pass from Sidney Crosby and was able to elude Andrew MacDonald’s coverage for a shot between Neuvirth’s pads.
When Radko Gudas took a penalty at 17:02, it looked like the Flyers were in deeper trouble. But Filppula, who has experience in the pressure cooker of the Stanley Cup (he won a ring with Detroit in 2008), came through to keep the Flyers in it.
In addition to Neuvirth, the Flyers changed things up with their forward lines.
Couturier returned to action after missing a game following an injury from a collision with Gudas on Tuesday.
Couturier was moved back to a third line with Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds and played less than 10 minutes in the first two periods. But he did play some valuable time on the penalty kill and his leg injury didn’t seem to hamper his play all that much.
“He (Couturier) gave a boost to everybody, just because of what he means to our team,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said. “But at the end of the day, it comes down to doing the job and he did that.
“He played a few less minutes tonight than he normally does but I thought he did a heck of a job, especially on the PK, he was a huge factor for us. His play down the stretch, not just the winning goal, was pretty good.’’
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