Jake Guentzel's historic 4-goal game lifts Penguins to series win over Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers had just scored to take a two-goal lead, and a rowdy Wells Fargo Center crowd was roaring.
Coach Mike Sullivan was considering giving Matt Murray, his two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie, the hook.
Evgeni Malkin, the team's leading scorer, wasn't dressed because of an apparent knee injury suffered the game before.
The Penguins were staring right in the face of a Game 7 they had zero desire to play and a less-than-great chance of winning.
This was adversity the likes of which the Penguins hadn't seen in their championship runs of the previous two seasons.
At that moment, Jake Guentzel arrived to save the day.
Guentzel had four goals and an assist in the final 28 minutes, leading the Penguins to an 8-5 clinching victory over the Flyers in Game 6 of a first-round series Sunday afternoon.
The Penguins will face the winner of the series between Columbus and Washington in the second round. Washington leads 3-2.
“You're just trying to do whatever you can to help the team win now,” Guentzel said. “When the bounces are going your way, you just try to run with it.”
Guentzel became the third Penguins player to score more than three goals in a playoff game, joining Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens on the short list.
With 19 goals in 31 career postseason games, he's a bona fide “playoff guy,” which might be the highest compliment a hockey player can receive at this time of year.
“You get a little excitement, a little nerves in you,” Guentzel said. “This is what you want to play in. You grow up dreaming about this. It's definitely fun.”
Midway through the second period, the Penguins were in the middle of a nightmare.
A Patric Hornqvist turnover at the offensive blue line at the tail end of a power play led to a Sean Couturier goal that broke a 2-2 tie. A seemingly harmless Scott Laughton wrister from the left wing got past Murray and made it 4-2. Casey DeSmith got up from his seat at the end of the Penguins bench and began to stretch.
“We did talk about it on the bench, just to try to change the momentum at that particular time,” Sullivan said. “I was considering it, but my gut was telling me to stay with Matt, and I'm glad I did because he made some big saves in the third.”
Guentzel's heroic run started not with a goal but an assist. He was the “tac” in a tic-tac-toe passing play that started with Sidney Crosby and ended with Hornqvist burying a shot from the slot to make it 4-3.
“As a young guy, a lot of guys probably shoot that,” Hornqvist said. “He's so calm, and that's what makes him so good.”
Guentzel's first goal tied the score with 53.9 seconds left in the second period. Olli Maatta's shot from the left point pinballed in off the post, the back of goalie Michal Neuvirth and Guentzel's stick.
“There were a lot of momentum swings in the game,” Sullivan said. “There were two-goal swings where you think you're down and out, and the next line goes over the boards, and they score a goal and we get excited. We get back into the game.”
Guentzel's tour de force came in the third period.
In the first minute, Phil Kessel stole a puck from defenseman Ivan Provorov and fed Guentzel on a two-on-one.
About 12 minutes later, Kris Letang chopped out Sean Couturier's skates on an unpenalized play that popped a puck loose to Crosby, who fed Guentzel in the slot for a goal.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Hornqvist motored up the right wing and hit Guentzel racing to the far post for goal No. 4.
The crisis was averted. The Penguins were on to the second round.
“It's incredible, that thing he did today, scoring four goals,” Hornqvist said. “It was the difference.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.