PHILADELPHIA — Yes, Sean Couturier had a natural hat trick, Carter Hart stood on his head in goal and Claude Giroux recorded his 500th career assist.
But the real heroes of Wednesday night’s nationally televised 4-3 win over Boston at the Wells Fargo Center were the Flyers’ penalty killers.
In particular, their performance in holding off Boston during a five-minute boarding major to Jori Lehtera for sending Ryan Donato crashing into the dasher and leaving the Flyers a man short for the final three minutes of the second period and the first two of the third.
Even though the Flyers’ penalty kill is ranked only 30th in the NHL at 13.0 percent, it has played much better of late (83.8 percent over last 25 games going into Wednesday) and the performance during the Lehtera (who also received a misconduct penalty on the play) kill was exemplary.
Couturier, Scott Laughton, Ivan Provorov and Radko Gudas all played key roles in keeping Boston shooters to the outside and limiting their primary angles.
For the game, Philadelphia blocked a whopping 30 shots. Robert Hagg led the way with 7, followed by Provorov with five and Andrew MacDonald with four.
The Flyers also did a good job slowing Boston’s rush through the neutral zone and constantly frustrated the Bruins with precision clears. Boston didn’t come close to scoring.
Couturier, Hart — who stopped 39 of 42 shots — and friends did the rest.
“The guys are more focused (on the penalty kill),’’ Gudas contended. “They’re making small plays in our zone, we’re not trying to clear right away, guys are making small passes, then clearing (into open lanes).’’
The big penalty kill on the Lehtera changed the momentum of the game. The WFC crowd was really into it as the Boston power play came to an end.
“It was huge,’’ said Couturier. “You can win some games and lose some games with special teams. Tonight I thought we did a good job. We responded well after that first goal we gave up on the kill (in the first period). We got the job done later on.’’
Laughton takes pride in killing penalties and it bothered him when the Flyers started off the season just 68 percent through the first 20 games. Big change now.
“It (five-minute kill) was huge,’’ he said. “I think our defensemen did a great job of blocking shots, especially up high on (Torey) Krug. They’ve got a dangerous power play with a lot of threats.
“We’ve changed things up a bit in the zone. When they enter the zone, we don’t give them much. We’re more aggressive on walls. Everyone’s on the same page. At the start of the year, we would have one guy go and everyone would sit back. Now when one guy goes, we have everyone going.’’
For the second straight game, the Flyers fell behind by a 2-0 score only to score three unanswered goals.
Oskar Lindblom kicked things off by ending a 30-game goal drought at 12:44 of the first. Lindblom, who had not scored since Nov. 5, beat goaltender Jaroslav Halak from about 20 feet off the rush.
Giroux got the assist, joining Bob Clarke (852) as the only Flyers in the coveted 500 club.
Lindblom expressed relief that the skid ended. He’s been playing on the second line of late and that makes him more sure of himself.
“I feel better out there, more confident,’’ he said. “That’s a big part of the game, it’s what you need out there.’’
Then Couturier went to work. On the first goal, at 5:32 of the second, he was in position to follow up an entry from Jake Voracek.
Just a minute and 15 seconds later, Couturier struck again. This time, during a power play, he was stationed in front and managed to get the shaft of his stick on Wayne Simmonds’ shot.
In the third period, Couturier scored his third goal with 4:07 to play to give the Flyers a two-goal cushion.
Couturier said the penalty killing has steadily improved this season after a rocky start.
“Yes, we’ve been building on our success lately,’’ he said between periods. “We have to keep going, we can’t sit back and watch. We need to gain some momentum on this kill and get going after that.’’
Boston jumped to its 2-0 lead on goals by David Pastrnak (4:39, power play) and Peter Cehlarik (9:12).
Brad Marchand scored with 1:06 to play to make the final score close.
In some respects, it was Hart’s best effort to date.
“We just battled,’’ he said. “The third period was a good example. We still had two minutes to kill on the five-minute major. We really didn’t give up anything on that power play.
“Everybody was just telling ourselves to block some shots, sacrifice their bodies. Guys were completely laying out to block shots. . .as a goalie, I really appreciate it.’’
The Flyers’ natural hat trick was recorded by Scott Hartnell six years ago. . Giroux was credited with his second assist of the game on the second Couturier goal. . .The Flyers return to action on Saturday night at Montreal before they begin their scheduled four-day furlough, followed by the NHL All-Star Game break. They are scheduled to hold an afternoon practice at the Skate Zone on Sunday, Jan. 27.
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