Tears were starting to well in his eyes as Ivan Provorov stood in the Flyers locker room following his first playoff series.
The emotion from the usually stoic defenseman had nothing to do with the pain of an unspecified left shoulder injury. It had everything to do with his team having just been eliminated.
“The third period didn’t go as well as I wanted to,” said Provorov, his voice quivering. “I turned the puck over a couple of times and they turned into goals and it’s one of the reasons we lost the game.”
Provorov injured himself late in Friday’s game at Pittsburgh crashing hard into the boards after tripping over Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. It was a clean hockey play, but looked bad.
The 21-year-old, who tied for the NHL’s regular-season lead with 17 goals among defensemen, attempted only two shots on goal on Sunday. While he twice declined to blame the injury for his poor play in the third, he did at least confess to being reluctant to shoot the puck.
“As long as my arm was attached to me,” he said, “I was playing.”
The Flyers were overwhelmed by the Penguins in the second half of the game and lost, 8-5. That Pittsburgh was able to score so many goals without two of their top forwards is troubling. Jake Guentzel is a nice player, but the Flyers made him look like Jari Kurri on Sunday.
“It was something special, never seen anything like it, to be honest,” said Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray. “He was just as hot as you can get I think, so it was really fun to watch and obviously a huge performance for us.”
Six of those Penguins’ goals came in the final 33-plus minutes of the game and Guentzel had four in a row. Provorov, the Flyers’ best defenseman during the season, had uncharacteristic turnovers on two of those six Pittsburgh goals. Radko Gudas had two misplays where he failed to clear the puck out of the Flyers’ zone. Each of those ended up in the back of the net, as well.
The Sixers can win playoff games committing a ton of turnovers. The Flyers can not. Gudas, who made a good play to start the rush that led to the Flyers’ fourth goal, declined to speak to the media following the game.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” said Andrew MacDonald, who was paired with Provorov. “We had some breakdowns and stuff that ended up costing us. But I liked our fight, the way we battled throughout the night.”
Coach Dave Hakstol said the Flyers considered dressing an extra defenseman just in case Provorov was unable to last the full game. But that would have left his forwards thin. Though not himself, Provorov played well enough in the first two periods.
Sean Couturier, playing with a torn knee ligament, had his second career playoff hat trick and a postseason career-high five points to lead the Flyers.
“If you guys only knew what kind of shape those guys were in,” said MacDonald.
The Flyers led, 4-2, midway through the second period and were feeling pretty good about things. Pittsburgh was playing without Evgeni Malkin, who was scratched with a lower-body injury.
Then they lost second-line left wing Carl Hagelin after a collision with Claude Giroux shortly after the Flyers’ fourth goal. Hagelin had scored his second goal of the series in the first period. No penalty was called on the hit by Giroux, but oddly that’s when things began to unravel for the Flyers.
Carl Hagelin heads to the locker room after this hit from Claude Giroux. pic.twitter.com/zug4DW6C1v
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 22, 2018
One of the things that killed the Flyers in their losses was the Penguins’ ability to score quickly. Pittsburgh has won two Stanley Cups and now nine consecutive playoff series. When they saw the Flyers were a little shaken — both physically and in confidence — they pounced. Pittsburgh won all five games in Philadelphia this season.
In the first period, the Penguins scored twice in 47 seconds. Guentzel’s first two goals came in the final minute of the second period and the first minute of the third, which tied it at 4. Later on in the third, they gave up two more in a flash of 10 seconds and the only thing left to do was clean up the debris thrown on to the ice by aggravated fans whose Stanley Cup drought will now stretch to 44 years.
“We played well in the first two periods,” Provorov said, echoing his earlier thought. “In the third period, I had a few mistakes that turned into goals and that cost us the game.”