PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sean Couturier’s long shot from the point got past Matt Murray with 1:17 left and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Friday night to force sixth game in the first-round series.
The Flyers cut the Penguins’ series lead to 3-2 going into Game 6 on Sunday in Philadelphia.
After missing Game 4 with a lower-body injury, Couturier extended his team’s season at least two more days by picking up his second goal of the series. Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula and Matt Read also scored for the Flyers. Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 shots, including a diving stop on the doorstep to deny Penguins star Sidney Crosby shortly after Couturier’s knuckler put Philadelphia in front.
Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins. Matt Murray made 21 saves but had no chance on Couturier’s winner as the puck found its way through a sea of players and into the net.
A series that figured to be taut instead started with four straight blowouts, most of them ending with the Flyers skating off the ice wondering what they needed to do to keep pace with cross-state rivals.
Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol, perhaps fighting for his job, made his first significant change in an effort to keep his team’s season alive, giving Neuvirth his first playoff start in nearly two years and his first start of any variety in more than two months after Brian Elliott couldn’t shake out of a funk that saw him pulled in Game 1 and again in Game 4.
The Flyers also Couturier back to center the third line just three days removed from a scary practice collision with teammate Radko Judas that left Couturier with a lower-body injury that forced him to watch Pittsburgh’s clinical 5-0 Game 4 romp from the press box.
There was no need for change in Pittsburgh, which has developed a killer instinct under coach Mike Sullivan it lacked at times earlier in the Crosby/Malkin era. The Penguins came in 8-5 in potential close-out games since Sullivan took over in December, 2015, including a 5-2 mark at home.
Make it 5-3.
Giroux, a non-factor through much of the series, gave Philadelphia the lead 17:29 into the first when he found some space in the slot and took a pretty feed from behind the Pittsburgh ned by Jakub Voracek to pump a shot by Murray.
The Penguins replied with two goals in a 4:45 span in the second for the first lead change of the series. Bryan Rust beat Neuvirth with a wrap around 12 minutes into the second for his ninth career goal in a potential elimination game. Guentzel then took a feed from Crosby and slipped it between Neuvirth’s legs to put Pittsburgh in front.
The Flyers, for the first time since Game 2, responded. Some sloppy play by Pittsburgh’s top power-play unit led to a turnover and a rush the other way that ended with Filppula sneaking a bouncing puck through Murray’s five-hole to knot the score and two and produce actual late tension heading into the third, a rarity.
NOTES: Penguins F Patric Hornqvist missed his second straight game due to an upper-body injury. Hornqvist did skate earlier Friday and remains day-to-day. … Malkin missed the final 4 minutes of the first period after Philadelphia’s Jori Lehtera fell on it when the two got tangled in the corner. Malkin returned to start the second period. … The Penguins were 0 for 5 on the power play. The Flyers were 0 for 1.
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