High-flyin' Philly wins wild one

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury lets in a a goal by Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr (not shown)...

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury lets in a a goal by Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr (not shown) during Game 2 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series in Pittsburgh, Penn., April 13, 2012. (JASON COHN/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:29 AM ET

PITTSBURGH - A year ago, with the NHL draft fast approaching, Sean Couturier was a cold commodity.

Now, the Philadelphia Flyers rookie centre couldn't be worth more.

After taking care of his top assignment Friday night -- shutting down NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin -- Couturier delivered his first career hat trick in front of a stunned crowd at the Consol Engergy Center.

The youthful and ultra-resilient Flyers once again erased multiple-goal Pittsburgh Penguins leads and left town with a massive 8-5 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

They return home for Sunday's Game 3 with a huge edge and leaving the Penguins vulnerable to a first-round bouncing for a second consecutive spring.

How big of a crater do the Penguins, who entered the post-season as the consensus favourite to win the Stanley Cup, find themselves?

In their history, the Flyers are 17-0 in series they open with a 2-0 lead while the Penguins are 5-6 on the other end of that scenario.

Couturier's hat trick was matched by teammate Claude Giroux -- who also had three assists -- and the 19-year-old's play continues to draw rave reviews from the veteran Flyers.

A strong, defensive centre isn't supposed to make such an impact playing against grown men until they put in a couple of years in the league.

"I don't know if I know any words to describe this kid," said 40-year-old Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr, who played the villain's role to perfection by scoring the game winner against his former team at 9:13 of the third period.

"I don't think in my hockey career I've seen anyone that good defensively at that age. He is out there having go play against one of the best players in the league."

That the Flyers were able to draft him No. 8 overall at last June's draft was a gift of generosity from the hockey gods. At mid-season, Couturier was ranked as the top junior prospect but fell when his production dipped and scouts -- ironically, it turns out now -- questioned his defensive ability.

"I couldn't really control any of that stuff," Couturier said. "Other guys were having good years. Today I can't really be any happier than ending up here."

It's safe to say the Penguins wish they'd never laid eyes on the former Drummondville Voltigeurs star.

Just as in Game 1, the Penguins squandered multi-goal leads after sprinting out to a strong start. This time, it took all of 15 seconds for Sidney Crosby to open the scoring and the Pens went into the first intermission with a 3-1 lead.

And then the madness on this wildly entertaining night truly kicked into high gear.

By the end of the second period -- when Couturier scored the first post-season goal of his career with just three seconds remaining -- the score was tied at 4-4.

Just 1:21 into the third, both teams had scored again and who knew where it was going to end.

Twice in the game, the teams traded goals a little more than a blink apart -- six seconds between the first pair and 17 the second.

But like they did in Wednesday's opener, the Flyers started to take control of the play in the second, outshooting the Pens 24-17 over the final 40 minutes.

Worse for the home side, profound sloppiness in their own end made it easy for the Flyers.

Couturier's second goal came on the brain fart of the series thus far when Ben Lovejoy put the puck on his stick, right in front of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

On Jagr's game-winner, it was centre Jordan Staal's turn to play the goat. A sloppy clearing attempt by Staal started a play that Jagr finished with a spin-around move that handcuffed Fleury.

"We have to be a tougher team to play and get offence against," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And it has to happen all over the ice."

The Flyers weren't thrilled about digging themselves into an early hole, but that will only keep the motivation high when the series resumes Sunday afternoon.

It's just the second time in their history that they've won the first two games of a series on the road. One and all knows what awaits at home.

"It will be nice to get back to Philadelphia where we have the best fans in the league and let them make some noise," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.

At the other side of the state, his rookie centre gave them something to rave about.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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