Sean Couturier channels Chris Pronger in gutsy return for Flyers

Sean Couturier wasn’t sure he’d even be in the lineup but he scored as the Flyers kept their season alive with a win against the Penguins.

After a freak collision during practice Tuesday pushed Sean Couturier out of the Flyers lineup for Game 4 of their first-round series, nearly sinking Philadelphia’s post-season hopes in the process, the young pivot battled through and cemented himself a place in team history on Friday.

Sidelined as his teammates suffered a 5-0 pummelling at the hands of their state rivals one game prior, Couturier made it back into the lineup for Game 5, taking the team on his back in the waning minutes and scoring the game-winner to keep Philadelphia’s season alive. It was the type of resilient display that surely earned the respect of his fellow NHLers and the Philly faithful alike, one that hearkened back to the gutsy Flyers of old.

That was the idea, apparently.

Before Couturier tested out his injured knee during the Flyers’ morning skate early Friday, captain and linemate Claude Giroux told him a legendary tale about Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, according to the Courier-Post‘s Dave Isaac. The story in question was Pronger’s own display of perseverance back in 2011, when the big-bodied defender played through a hand injury during a Flyers series against the Buffalo Sabres. With his teammates unsure if Pronger would make it into the game, he showed up mere hours before puck-drop, got into the lineup, and did what he could.

The story stuck with Couturier, it seems. According to Isaac, after the morning skate, Giroux received a text from his young centreman with five words: “Yeah, I’m pulling a Prongs.”

The rest is orange and black history, as Couturier allowed the Flyers to even out the lopsided centre depth that plagued Philadelphia in Game 4, though the injury limited him enough to keep him mired in the bottom six. He had enough to net the most important goal of Philadelphia’s season, though, and stave off elimination.

“Just trying to take it one shift at a time, win your 1-on-1 battles, keep it simple,” Couturier told Isaac after the victory in Pittsburgh. “You don’t want to overdo things or overthink the game. That’s kind of the mentality I had. Just keep it simple, keep the shifts short, make sure I was fresh and ready to go each shift.”

The rush of getting back in for such a high-stakes affair certainly helped matters.

“Once you get out there you don’t feel much,” he told Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson. “A lot of emotions, and the adrenaline kind of takes over. You do whatever you can each shift to win your battles and help the team.”

Couturier finished the night with 16:55 minutes of ice—considerably less than the 26:18 he logged in Game 3—along with three shots and the series-preserver, his absence from the top line a sign that he isn’t operating at 100 per cent.

“I’m not gonna say how good or how bad I felt,” Couturier told Isaac. “But I felt good enough to go and help the team.”

Go, he did, and those in the room took notice.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy,” Giroux said of his 25-year-old teammate. “He’s one of our leaders. You can put him in any situation. It’s impressive.”

With the Game 5 win, the Flyers have closed the series gap to 3-2, booking a date with Pittsburgh on Sunday where they’ll look for a bit more magic to keep the Battle of Pennsylvania going.

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