PITTSBURGH – Claude Giroux said the Flyers would win Friday night in Pittsburgh and return to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 6 on Sunday.
The Flyers’ captain backed up his words.
Giroux settled down his team with the game’s first goal, and Sean Couturier — who gallantly returned to the lineup after an injury forced him to miss the previous contest — scored with 1 minute, 15 seconds left, giving the Flyers a stunning 4-2 win over the Penguins before a boisterous sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena.
Couturier scored on a wrist shot from just inside the blue line.
“I just tried to get it through and create a rebound, and I think it may have hit one of their guys and it was a lucky bounce, but we’ll take them,” Couturier said.
The Flyers were 5 for 5 on the penalty kill; they received just one power play.
“Our guys could have been frustrated with that 5-1 [disadvantage] and how that came about, but they didn’t and they stayed focused,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Now we have to go home and play a real good hockey game.”
The Penguins lead the series, three games to two, and can advance with a win in Sunday’s 3 p.m. matchup.
In franchise history, the Flyers are 8-11 in Game 6 when they are facing a 3-2 series deficit.
Twenty-five seconds after Couturier’s goal, Michal Neuvirth (30 saves), who made his first start in the series, robbed Sidney Crosby from the doorstep.
“He looked sharp in practice … and we needed a big game from him tonight and got it,” Hakstol said of Neuvirth, who replaced Steve Mason in the conference quarterfinals against Washington two years ago and extended the series to six games with his outstanding play.
Matt Read iced Friday’s win with an empty-net goal with 17.3 seconds remaining.
The Flyers nearly took a 2-0 lead a little over a minute into the second period. Nolan Patrick’s two-on-one blast was stopped by goalie Matt Murray, and the juicy rebound caromed to an all-alone Michael Raffl. But Raffl couldn’t quite control the bouncing puck to put a shot on the empty net.
It came back to haunt the Flyers when Bryan Rust scored on a wraparound against slow-to-react Neuvirth with eight minutes left in the second, knotting the score at 1-all.
Neuvirth had been superb before Rust’s goal. The Penguins had dominated the period at that point, outshooting the Flyers, 9-1, in the first 12 minutes of the second.
The Flyers were going to get a power play later in the second on a delayed penalty, but veteran Andrew MacDonald made a rookie mistake as he was called for roughing Zach-Aston Reese. That negated the power play and, just 24 seconds later, Shayne Gostisbehere was called for holding Sidney Crosby, a questionable call that incensed the Flyers.
The Flyers killed the four-on-three power play that lasted 1:36.
Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead when a defensive breakdown enabled Jake Guentzel to get deep into the left circle, and he fired a wrist shot through Neuvirth’s legs with 3:15 to go in the second.
Just 1:30 later, however, Val Filppula (three points) intercepted Phil Kessel’s pass, and fed Jori Lehtera while the Flyers were on a penalty kill. Murray stopped Lehtera’s shot, but a hustling Filppula beat Kris Letang to the puck and scored on the rebound, tying the game at 2-2 with 1:45 left in the second.
It was Filppula’s first goal in his last 14 games, including the regular season.
“Fil did a good job going to the net; it was huge,” Giroux said.
Earlier, Giroux snapped an 11-game playoff goal-less streak and gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with 2:31 left in the first period, whipping a slap shot from the high slot past Murray. It marked the second time in the series the Flyers had scored first – and they won the other time, 5-1, in Game 2.
Giroux scored after taking a pass from Jake Voracek, who picked up a loose puck behind the goal line.
Giroux admitted he had been pressing.
“You start overthinking it, trying to do too much,” he said. “Yeah, it was a [relief]. I forgot to celebrate. I was shocked” he had scored.
After practice on Thursday, Giroux proclaimed that the Flyers were going to extend the series and return it to the Wells Fargo Center.
“We’re not ready for our season to be over,” he said. “We’re going to go out there, play our game and be back for Game 6.”
Couturier, who usually plays on the top line, returned to the lineup Friday and centered the third line. Though hobbled from an apparent right-knee injury, the Flyers figured Couturier at less than 100 percent was better than anyone else.
In the first period, Couturier was used on the penalty kill but not the power play. He had a good scoring chance – a left-circle drive gloved by Murray with 5:16 remaining in the first.
Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ star center, was injured in a collision with Lehtera and went to the locker room with 3:32 to go in the first period. Malkin returned at the start of the second and later got into a shoving match with Brandon Manning as both players got their sticks high.
The Flyers were much more physical than in their previous two games, lopsided losses at home in which they were outscored by a combined 10-1.
With 15:13 left in the third period, Giroux and Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak collided, and the Flyers’ captain limped off the ice. Radko Gudas went after Oleksiak and the two received fighting penalties.
A dazed Giroux went down the tunnel for medical treatment but returned to the ice a short time later.
The Flyers outhit the Penguins, 48-25.
Giroux said the Flyers didn’t “go out there to kill guys and lay them out. It’s about body position. We won more battles than we did in the other games.”
Gudas (seven hits), Ivan Provorov (six in 30:07) and Raffl (six) led the Flyers’ hit parade.