PITTSBURGH – Sean Couturier, usually the Flyers’ first-line center, returned to the lineup Friday but was placed on the third line between wingers Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds.
All he did was score the game-winner, snapping a 2-2 tie with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in regulation as the Flyers shocked the Penguins, 4-2, and staved off elimination.
Couturier also led a penalty-killing unit that was 5 for 5 — against the league’s top power play — and scored a shorthanded goal.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy,” captain Claude Giroux said after the win cut the Penguins’ lead in the series to three games to two. “He’s one of our leaders, and you can put him in any situation … and it’s impressive.”
“Just him being out there was huge for us,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think the penalty kill was phenomenal, and they’re the real reason we won that game.”
Couturier, 25, missed the previous game because of an apparent right-knee injury. At Friday’s morning skate, he did more skating than in his previous two days.
“It was a good day,” Couturier, who still isn’t at 100 percent, said before the game.
It was decided he would play after he took part in the pregame warmups.
Couturier set career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) this season, finishing with a plus-34 rating and becoming a Selke finalist as the league’s best defensive forward.
Without him, the Flyers dropped Game 4 to the relentless Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center, 5-0.
They are 2-2 with him in the lineup, and 0-1 without him — a 5-0 loss in Game 4.
Couturier said he had a “big part in the decision” on whether he played, along with the coaching staff and medical team.
“It’s one thing to play, but you have to be able to help the team as well,” he said after the morning skate.
Val Filppula, who had zero points in the first four games, centered Giroux and Jake Voracek on the top line. Filppula had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring a shorthanded goal and collecting a pair of assists.
The second line had Nolan Patrick centering Michael Raffl and Travis Konecny.
There were also changes on the fourth line, where Jori Lehtera centered Matt Read and Dale Weise, who was playing for the first time in the series. Weise hadn’t played since March 28 in Colorado, when he saw 7:36 of ice time.
After the morning skate, Couturier smiled when asked about testing his leg in faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere.
“I was trying to get a test, but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs to really test it out,” he said, drawing laughs.
Couturier added he needed to feel “good enough to help the team. It’s easy to say I could play, but if you’re not helping the team, it’s not good. I’ll see how I feel in warmups, see if I feel good enough to help the team.
“It’s tough at this time of year to be sitting out games,” he said. “You want to be out there battling. You work hard all season to get to this point, and not being able to help your teammates is frustrating, so I’m going to try to do all I can to be back out there and help the team.”
Couturier’s goal with 1:15 left was the fifth-latest go-ahead tally in the team’s playoff history. … The Flyers’ 48 hits (Pittsburgh had 25) were their most in a playoff game since 2004 against Toronto. … Jordan Weal, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim were among the healthy scratches. … The Flyers have been down in a seven-game series by a 3-1 margin 17 times in franchise history, going 1-16 in those series. Their only series win was against Boston in 2010, when they actually overcame a three-games-to-none deficit.