I don’t think anybody could have predicted the start this series has had.
Coming into the playoffs, all of the so-called experts were picking the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup this year. Very few picked the Philadelphia Flyers to take them out in the first round. But after two games, there have been two epic comebacks pulled off by the Flyers. The sparks behind each of those comebacks? Rookies Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
Coming into the season, Schenn was widely regarded as the best player not in the NHL and he was the focal point of the trade that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles.
Couturier was much less hyped. After being the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft, most thought that the Flyers would send the 18-year-old center back to his junior team in Drummondville. The contributions the two have had in their first two playoff games have been incredible.
A few weeks ago, Schenn, Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds were playing like the Flyers’ top line. Schenn looked poised to have his coming out party in the playoffs but when Briere suffered a back injury on April 1 and was ruled out indefinitely it looked like he would miss some time in the first round. Fortunately for the Flyers, though, when the puck was dropped for game one, Briere was seated comfortably on the bench waiting for his first shift of the post-season.
Six minutes into the second period with the Penguins holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Schenn intercepted the puck at center ice, spun and threw the puck to where he knew only Briere could get to it. Briere buried the puck in the net, which was just the start of the Flyers’ first of two comebacks to kick off the series. Schenn wound up picking up three points in the game assisting on both of Briere’s goals and scoring one of his own on the power play with 7:37 left in regulation, which set up Jakub Voracek’s overtime game winner.
Schenn was the Flyers’ best player in game one. He played a very effective and physical game, similar to the player he was traded for back in June. He was hampered by three different injuries in the first half of the season, but seemed to really take his game to another level in his first playoff game. He was not as effective in game two; it seemed the Penguins had focused their efforts on trying to shut Schenn, Briere and Simmonds down, which opened it up for others to contribute in major ways.
Fast forward two days and the Flyers are facing a similar deficit at the end of the first period, the only difference being that Max Talbot scored a shorthanded goal so they were only down by a score of 3-1. What happened over the next two periods was absolutely insane.
Nine goals were scored in the next 40 minutes, seven by the Flyers and two by the Penguins. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier both picked up hat tricks in the game; Giroux also added another three assists. But instead of the guy who set the Flyers record for points in a playoff game being named first star of the game, that honor went to the 19-year-old kid with a toothless grin reminiscent of Bobby Clarke.
Couturier played unbelievably at both ends of the ice. He made likely Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin look invisible and seemed to be untouchable himself on the offensive end of the ice. When asked about Couturier’s performance, future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr said, “If he wouldn’t score any goals, I would say he would have a great game. He played great defense and also scored three goals. I don’t know if I could find the words to describe his game. Awesome, maybe, but he was something better than that.” The fact that Jagr said that about a 19-year-old kid is mind numbing in itself.
In the regular season, Couturier only picked up 13 goals in the regular season as he was mostly used in a defensive role alongside Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo. That was supposed to be his only role in this series but once he scored his second goal of the night Peter Laviolette starting having him and Giroux out on the ice together which generated plenty of chances for everybody on the ice.
Without his contributions at both ends of the ice, who knows what this series would look like. Malkin scored 50 goals and picked up an additional 59 assists on the season which won him the regular season scoring title. Through two games, he has zero goals and only two assists, both coming in last night’s game two. Watch out for more of the same from Couturier throughout the rest of the playoffs.