Sean Couturier snaps 27-game goal drought

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Sean Couturier snaps 27-game goal drought

It has not been an easy few days for Sean Couturier. It hasn’t been an easy season, either.

“It’s been tough at moments,” Couturier admitted. “The last couple of games I’ve gotten some pretty good scoring chances. When you get scoring chances, it’s just a matter of time until you find the back of the net.”

The center has looked lost now and then this season -- a stark contrast when compared to the player he was a year ago, a poised newcomer who found his way early and contributed often. That hasn’t always been the case this season.

Couturier went a long time between goals this year. He went more than two months, actually. And then, finally, he broke his slump when he put a puck past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price in the second period of Wednesday’s 5-3 win over Montreal at the Wells Fargo Center (see game story).

When he scored, Couturier’s excitement was evident. He gave a double fist pump and screamed as his teammates swarmed him.

“It’s good for the confidence, get the monkey off the back,” Couturier said. “It’s been a while. It’s nice to find the back of the net."

A year ago, as a rookie, the 6-3, 197-pound center appeared in 77 games for the Flyers. He played well, scoring 13 goals and adding 14 assists. He proved that he belonged. He was plus-18 last season. But that was last season, and last season seems like a long time ago for him.

This year has not gone nearly as well as Couturier might have hoped. Going into Wednesday’s game against Montreal, Couturier had two goals and seven assists in 33 outings. He was minus-12. Not surprisingly, he saw his ice time dip as the season went along and he continued to struggle. Two weeks ago, he played barely eight minutes against the Lightning, and last week he notched just 10 minutes against the Rangers. Against the Canadiens, however, Couturier played more than 15 minutes.

“Sean is a good player,” Claude Giroux insisted. “He brings a lot to this team in faceoffs. He kills a lot of penalties. If he scores or not, he’s still playing good. We’re not worried about him. But obviously I think [the goal] is going to take a little pressure off of him.”

So, too, will the fact that the trade deadline came and went without Couturier being asked to pack his bags and head to the airport.

Couturier is still young. He turned 20 years old this past December. His career isn’t so much about yesterday or today as it is about tomorrow and all the days after that. He’s about promise and potential and what he can do for a team moving forward -- which is why his name was whispered in so many potential trade reports before Wednesday’s deadline.

Depending on which rumors you believe, the Ottawa Senators, among other teams, were interested in Couturier. And yet he remains in Philadelphia.

“I’m young,” Couturier said. “When big names come in, my name is always going to get thrown around. I try not to think about it and just play the game and do what I can do.”

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."