PHILADELPHIA – First it was Sean Couturier biting the bullet to play in Game 5, despite dealing with a painful torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
On Sunday, the baton for courage was passed to defenseman Ivan Provorov, who suffered a significant injury to his left shoulder in Game 5 and said he was in such distress during Game 6 that he was looking to pass the puck every time he received it.
Despite his knee injury, Couturier scored the winning goal in Game 5 with just 1:15 to play.
In Game 6, he did that two better by scoring a hat trick, his first in the playoffs since he put one together as a rookie, against Pittsburgh no less, back in 2012.
Provorov toughed it out Sunday, even though he could barely lift his arm.
These two acts of bravery show the kind of character players the Flyers have on their roster.
“In terms of mental toughness and the ability to play through some things, the two gentlemen you just mentioned (Provorov and Couturier) are at the top of the bar,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said after Sunday’s season-ending 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Those two guys showed up and showed what kind of character they have. I don’t think there was any doubt in either one of their minds that it was possible for them to be in the lineup.’’
Couturier enjoyed a four-point afternoon and finished with nine points for the series, by far the most on the Flyers’ roster for the series (the second-most was three)
Provorov was severely limited in this contest. He gave up the puck on the tie-breaking goal early in the third period and finished an uncharacteristic minus-4 at game’s end.
He was nearly in tears as he faced the media after the game.
“I did everything I could,’’ Provorov said. “The third period didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I turned the puck over a couple times that turned into goals. It’s the reason we lost the game.’’
Provorov hasn’t missed a game in all 170 games he’s had an opportunity to play in and he wasn’t about to miss this one. Too much on the line.
“As long as my arm was attached to me, I was playing,’’ he said. “I tried not to think about it. Whatever happened, happened. Most of the time I was looking to pass.’’
Couturier went through similar angst before playing in Game 5. No doubt, playing on a torn ligament was not much fun in Game 6 either. But ultimately, he had final say in lacing up the skates.
“It was on me. The decision was on me,’’ Couturier insisted. “Obviously I had the support of the staff, the organization, the medical team. They helped me a lot. It definitely got better over the days but it wasn’t the ideal situation I guess.
Couturier said the injury will not require surgery.
Players like Claude Giroux could only admire what these young men were going through to play in these critical games for the Flyers.
Couturier had played with Giroux most of the season, so they had formed a good bond.
“Yeah,’’ Giroux said. “I mean you look at his game tonight, he gave us a chance to win that game. I know I said it before, I have a lot of respect for that guy, he’s one of our leaders. Our season is on the line and he played a great game.’’
Provorov will be one of the franchise players in this organization for years to come. This game will go down in folklore, right alongside Tim Kerr (shoulder) and Dave Poulin (busted ribs, requiring a flak jacket).
“It’s really impressive how guys are injured like that and they come out and play,’’ Giroux said, “and give it everything they have and it’s not fun to see, guys battled hard here tonight.’’