Couturier stays hot, Flyers drop Sabres 4-1 for 3rd straight
By MIKE CRANSTON, Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Barely a month removed from a 10-game losing streak, the Philadelphia Flyers have climbed back into playoff contention.
They can thank the high-scoring trio of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Couturier scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and added an empty-netter to put it away and the Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Sunday for their third straight victory.
The Flyers (19-15-8) entered their NHL-mandated five-day break in a logjam with Carolina, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot.
“It reveals what you have in terms of leadership inside of the locker room,” coach Dave Hakstol said of how the team bounced back from their 0-5-5 stretch.
“They had the right response, day after day, through a real hard time, believed in themselves and found a way to dig out of a hole.”
Couturier took a feed from Giroux on the power play and scored from the left dot at 7:17 of the second period to snap a 1-all tie. Giroux, who entered third in the NHL in points, earned his 52nd.
Couturier’s goal with 1:15 left provided a cushion and Ivan Provorov’s empty-netter with 33 seconds left gave the Flyers 16 goals in three games.
It’s been quite a week for Couturier, who had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight) in a 6-4 win over the Islanders on Thursday and scored two goals in Saturday’s 6-3 win over St. Louis.
Couturier has a career-high 23 goals, and his 42 points are three more than his previous best season.
“I probably wouldn’t have thought I would have that many early on, but I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team,” Couturier said. “Obviously playing with (Giroux) he’s a great passer and I just try to find the open areas.”
Voracek, the anchor of the second line, showed off his passing by collecting two more assists to give him an NHL-high 43.
Shayne Gostisbehere also scored and Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 shots as the Flyers got even for a Dec. 22 defeat in Buffalo.
Ryan O’Reilly scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for the Sabres, who finished a seven-game trip 1-4-2.
While most of Buffalo was focused on the Bills’ 10-3 loss to Tennessee in their first NFL playoff game in 18 years, the last-place Sabres took a 1-0 lead on O’Reilly’s power-play goal at 1:50 of the second period.
The Flyers tied it less than two minutes later on Gostisbehere’s wrist shot at the end of tic-tac-toe passing by Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera.
“We get that big power-play goal and then from that point we just changed the way we were playing for some reason,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
Each goalie made a spectacular save. Neuvirth kept it scoreless with a glove snag of Sam Reinhart in the first period, and Lehner robbed Wayne Simmonds with his left arm to keep it 2-1 in the second.
Lehner crumpled to the ice after taking Robert Hagg’s hard shot off his neck in third period. He was treated and stayed in the game.
“It took me a while to get the feeling back, but I’ll be fine,” Lehner said.
Neuvirth was sharp in his first start since Nov. 28, but will now get more time off as the Flyers won’t practice again until Friday.
“It’s always fun coming to the rink when you’re winning,” Couturier said. “But at the same time it’s important to get a break and get ready for the last stretch of the year.”
NOTES: The Sabres have been away while their arena hosted the world junior hockey championship. … F Benoit Pouliot, a healthy scratch for the first time Friday, returned to the Sabres’ fourth line ahead of Jordan Nolan. … Flyers F Tyrell Goulbourne missed much of the second period with a broken skate, then was sent to Lehigh Valley of the AHL after the game. … Flyers D Travis Sanheim was a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game.
Sabres: Home on Tuesday vs. Winnipeg.
Flyers: Saturday at New Jersey.
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