Here’s how fast life moves in the NHL, especially during the playoffs.
The Flyers lost two-time team MVP Sean Couturier to an apparent leg injury late in the second period of their possible elimination game Tuesday. His line, with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, was active all night.
So with Couturier back in the dressing room getting his leg examined after an awkward collision with Mathew Barzal, coach Alain Vigneault tabbed Scott Laughton to take Couturier’s place on the top line.
About a week earlier, Laughton was struggling so badly, Vigneault benched him for Game 2 of this series. Six days later, Laughton’s the hero with an overtime deflection to keep the season alive.
“I had a talk with him,” said Giroux, the team captain who also scored for the first time in these playoffs. “He wasn’t happy about his game. [But] he’s a guy that’s always going to show up. That goal tonight was him going to the net and getting a stick on it. Everybody’s very happy for him. He’s the kind of player that you want to go to battle with.”
Vigneault didn’t adjust his lineup, but he did shake up his lines. The most notable move was putting Travis Konecny on with Laughton and James van Riemsdyk. Tyler Pitlick started with Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee. Then the Couturier injury occurred.
“When Coots was unable to come back, I just looked at our options and how certain guys were playing,” the coach said. “I thought [Laughton] would be the best fit with ’G’ and Jake, who I believe were battling tremendously hard tonight. It worked out in overtime.”
Hayes has been bothering the Islanders with poke checks all during the series. His long reach indirectly led to the Laughton goal when he pressured New York defenseman Nick Leddy into a careless icing infraction after a scoring chance by the Hayes line.
Giroux cleanly won the ensuing offensive-zone face-off, and his line went to work. The puck was worked by Giroux back to the point, where Ivan Provorov fired a shot, which Laughton tipped past Semyon Varlamov.
It appeared as if Provorov excitedly yelled “Was that you?” at Laughton in the celebration immediately afterward.
Flyers won, 4-3. Game 6 will be Thursday (7 p.m., NBCSN).
Laughton is “probably the guy who is the heartbeat of our team,” said van Riemsdyk, who also ended a playoff drought with a second-period goal off a feed from Laughton. “He can go up and down the lineup, play a bunch of different ways. Guys love playing with him. He’s done a lot for us this year.”
Despite the truncated regular season, Laughton set a career high with 13 goals and turned his rating from minus-11 last season to plus-13 this year.
As van Riemsdyk said, Laughton played just about everywhere, and his value as a winger and a center was important Tuesday night. All four goals scored by the Flyers were the first of the playoffs for each player, which includes Matt Niskanen’s third-period tally.
Laughton’s contribution Tuesday would have been hard to envision not long ago, when he committed several ghastly turnovers in the first-round series against the Canadiens and kept right on scuffling early against the Islanders.
But now, he has something to try to build on: his first playoff overtime goal.
“I think it’s good for the confidence,” said Laughton, who turned 26 in May. “I needed a little reset after a tough series against Montreal; it’s no secret I had a tough one. I’m trying to contribute the best way that I can and be part of the solution here.”