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Guentzel, Pens send Flyers into summer

The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 22. 2018 8:53PM

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers’ roller-coaster ride of a season, which featured both encouraging and maddening stages, came to a screeching halt Sunday.

Blame a porous defense and the team’s failure to win on home ice.

Blame an offense that, with the Flyers trailing by just a goal, had no shots in the first 11-plus minutes of the third period.

But mostly, blame Pittsburgh winger Jake Guentzel, who scored four goals to power the Penguins to an 8-5 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

Pittsburgh won the series, 4-2, and will face the Columbus-Washington winner in the conference semifinals.

Sean Couturier, who missed Game 4 with a knee injury, had a hat trick and five points in a losing cause.

Defenseman Ivan Provorov gallantly played with an injured left shoulder, but it severely limited his stickhandling and shooting ability, and his turnover led to Guentzel’s two-on-one goal that put the Penguins ahead, 5-4, with 19:30 left in the third period.

Guenzel tapped in a pass from Phil Kessel, who had taken the puck from Provorov.

Pittsburgh scored in the final 54 seconds of the second, so it had two goals in 86 seconds. Earlier, the Penguins had two goals in a 47-second span, and it added two goals 10 seconds apart in the third.

Pittsburgh overcame deficits of 1-0 and 4-2.

Trailing 5-4, the Flyers failed to connect on a four-on-three power play midway through the third period. A few minutes later, Guentzel scored two goals 10 minute apart — the first one was tallied seconds after Kris Letang leveled Couturier — to put the Pens ahead, 7-4.

With their goalie pulled, Couturier made it 7-5 with 2:53 remaining.

The Penguins swept the three playoff games at the Wells Fargo Center. In seasons they reached the playoffs, the Flyers failed to win a home game for just the second time in the last 20 years.

Including the regular season, Pittsburgh won all five games against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, outscoring them, 28-9.

The Flyers, who had a 10-point improvement over 2016-17, have gone six straight seasons without winning a playoff series. That’s the longest stretch in franchise history.

Couturier, who scored the winning goal in Game 5 despite playing with one healthy leg, gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead by scoring on a strange breakaway, one in which he slowed down at the last second and, as Patric Hornqvist went past him, made a great move to slide the puck past Matt Murray with 19:20 left in the second period.

With 7:46 remaining in the second, Couturier sent a saucer pass to Scott Laughton, who beat Murray with a left-circle drive to put the Flyers ahead, 4-2. It was one of Murray’s worst goals allowed in the series, and it was Laughton’s first score in 28 games.

The Penguins responded, capitalizing on a Radko Gudas turnover and getting to within 4-3 on a slick tic-tac-toe passing play that finished with a Hornqvist goal with 6:25 left in the second.

Yet another Gudas turnover led to the game-tying goal with 54 remaining left in the second. Olli Maatta’s shot from well above the left circle hit the left post and caromed off Michal Neuvirth and into the net to tie it at 4.

Guentzel was battling in front and was credited with the goal, but he didn’t appear to touch it on the replays and it was expected to be changed.

Feeding off a frenetic crowd, Couturier charged the net, dug out the puck from a handful of Penguins and scored just 2:15 into the game. The team that scored first won each of the first five games.

Wayne Simmonds created a turnover that led to Couturier’s goal.

The Flyers swarmed the Penguins’ zone and had the game’s first five shots and first 10 shot attempts.

But the Penguins, who were missing star center Evgeni Malkin because of an unspecified injury, didn’t get rattled. Showing the poise of a two-time defending champion, they scored two goals 47 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead.

Sidney Crosby won a faceoff from Val Filppula tied the game at 1 as he knocked in a rebound off Letang’s point drive. Filppula failed to pick up Crosby, who was all alone.

Forty-seven seconds later, Shayne Gostisbehere left Carl Hagelin alone in the slot, where he scored after taking a pass from Kessel, who was behind the net. A Claude Giroux turnover started the sequence, which gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

The Flyers tied it on Andrew MacDonald’s one-time laser from the right point with 4:12 to go in the second.