Couturier’s hat trick and five points while hurt overshadow Guentzel’s four goals

Sometimes, the NHL Playoffs demonstrate how courageous these players are. The level of pain threshold they play through is unreal.

Patrice Bergeron once played with a broken rib and separated shoulder in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Even though the Bruins lost the Cup in excruciating fashion to the Blackhawks, Bergeron’s bravery is one that is fondly remembered by hockey fans.

Injuries to Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Keith Yandle played a role in a crushing seven game series loss to the Lightning in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. They all played through the injuries and nearly reached a second straight Stanley Cup Final. The bitter ending still hurts because it was the beginning of the end of that special group.

On Sunday, Sean Couturier played through his own pain. Following a incident at practice when he collided with Radko Gudas, he somehow managed to dress for Games 5 and 6 for the Flyers in a first round series defeat to the hated rival Pens. We didn’t know the extent of the injury until after yesterday’s game that saw the Pens eliminate the Flyers 8-5.

What was known was that Couturier was doubtful for Game 5 at Pittsburgh. But there was the Flyers’ best overall forward on late scoring the game-winner through a maze of players with 1:15 left in regulation to extend the series. It was almost as if it were his destiny to win that game on one good knee.

In a wild and wacky sixth game in Philadelphia, Couturier was remarkable. In what was a crushing loss that turned ugly late due to a few foolish fans who tossed beer on the ice, the Flyers center was brilliant. Somehow, he recorded a hat trick and two assists for a five point game in a tough loss that ended the season. He did it while playing with a torn MCL. Fortunately, it won’t require surgery. He later revealed that if it were in the regular season, he would’ve missed a month.

How well did Couturier play? Try this amazing skill on a mini break with back pressure and little wiggle room. It’s one of the best highlight reel goals I’ve seen given the injury and pressure.

I’ve seen plenty of great goals. I love the way he was able to hold the puck and maneuver it around Matt Murray to his forehand tucking it in with Patric Hornqvist all over him. Wow. Here’s another look at it:

The amount of patience, poise and strength it takes to pull off such a move is incredible. Hockey players are special. They can make plays that leave you breathless.

I can only heap praise on Couturier, who just might be the most complete center in the Metro Division. No disrespect to Sidney Crosby, who was his usual brilliant self lighting up his favorite opponent for 13 points in the six game series. But he’ll never be up for the Selke which goes to the top defensive forward. An award Couturier deserves for his brilliant season moving up to center the Flyers top line.

He finished with career bests across the board in goals (31), assists (45), points (76) and plus/minus (34) in all 82 games. The third time he’s played in every game. Couturier missed one game in the first round due to the injury but still managed to lead the Flyers in scoring with five goals and four assists totaling nine points in five games while going plus-one. No other Flyer has over three points with Claude Giroux only having a goal and two assists with a minus-10 rating.

While Couturier’s heroics came in defeat, Pens second year forward Jake Guentzel continued his playoff dominance. He had his first career four goal game with a helper for a five point performance that sparked the Pens in a comeback win.

In a game they once trailed 4-2 late in the second period, the Pens scored the next five goals including the last two of the second. Guentzel set up Hornqvist following a bad Gudas giveaway that led to Crosby feeding Guentzel down low where he dished across for a open Hornqvist that made it 4-3. Before the period concluded, Guentzel scored the first of four straight goals when he deflected in a Olli Maatta point shot with 54 seconds left stunning the Philly crowd.

Guentzel put the Pens ahead for good 30 seconds into the third when he buried a Phil Kessel pass. Following some poor Flyers power plays, he one-timed a perfect Crosby feed past Flyers goalie Michael Neuvirth that gave him a hat trick with 7:12 left for a 6-4 lead. The play was a bit controversial due to Kris Letang getting his stick in the skates of Couturier along the boards which sent him to the ice. The refs made no call due to Letang getting stick on puck. So, there is was no penalty which drew the ire of Flyers fans.

It only got worse when 10 seconds later, he got his sixth for a 7-4 lead. His fourth goal and fifth point giving him 13 in the series. As many as Crosby on a day Evgeni Malkin didn’t play. A special kind of game for a young player who broke the rookie playoff record with 13 goals and 21 points last year helping the Pens repeat.

Of course, as fate would have it Couturier completed his hat trick by getting to a Giroux shot for a rebound goal that made it 7-5 with 2:53 left. But that’s as close as they came. A missed crosscheck with the game and series decided led to a Bryan Rust empty netter to conclude the scoring.

Beer bottles were littered on the ice creating another ugly scene in Philadelphia. No matter how much fans disagree with the officiating, you can’t do that. It was sad because it ruined a great game along with a memorable performance by the injured Couturier. The Flyers fans who stayed till the bitter end saluted their team for the season they gave them.

That’s the problem. The misconception is that all Philly fans are bad. It’s not true. It’s the ugly actions of a few who give them the bad label and poor generalization that’s as bad as anything in this country.

I’ll remember Sunday’s game for two awesome performances by two young players. Couturier the bigger story given what he played with. Inspirational.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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