Rangers Flyers Hockey

Philadelphia Flyers’ Sean Couturier, right, looks to pass as New York Rangers’ Marc Staal skates in during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 7, 2018 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Tom Mihalek

The Philadelphia Flyers’ uphill battle in its opening round NHL playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins just got a lot tougher.

During Tuesday’s practice at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, top-line center Sean Couturier left the ice after he collided with defenseman Radko Gudas during a drill.

Couturier was skating toward the net when Gudas, looking in the opposite direction, received a pass as their knees collided.

Couturier instantly went to the ice and threw his stick against the boards in frustration.

Couturier had difficulty standing. He limped to the locker room with the aid of Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol didn’t comment to reporters Tuesday about the severity of the injury and will address the situation Wednesday.

Couturier is one of Philadelphia’s most important players. He serves as their top penalty killer and was second on the team goals (31) during the regulard season.

Losing Couturier would create an even bigger challenge for the Flyers, who are down 2-1 to the Penguins in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Couturier’s possible absence also comes as the Flyers are looking for some consistency.

The Flyers seemingly played their best period of the series in the first 20 minutes of a 5-1 loss to the Penguins on Sunday.

Rookie center Nolan Patrick disagreed with the suggestion it was their only strong period among nine so far.

“I think we were better than one good period,” Patrick said, referring to the Flyers’ 5-1 victory a couple days earlier in Game 2, “so there (are) a lot more positives than just that.”

The Flyers will have to string together several more good periods if they are going to have a chance at coming back against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

“I don’t think hockey like that (Sunday) is going to win us a series,” Flyers winger Jakub Voracek said.

Inconsistency doomed the Flyers in a 7-0 loss in Game 1 as well as in the drubbing in Game 3. But a 5-1 win in Game 2 has kept the Flyers in this series.

“Well, we’re not looking to take solace in any of this,” Hakstol said Sunday. “We obviously didn’t play well in Game 1. I liked their Game 2. We had a good start (in Game 3).

“If you really want to get to the heart of one issue, we took six penalties in a 30-minute time span in the middle of this hockey game. You’re not going to win playoff games.”

Six of the eight penalties the Flyers committed Sunday were stick infractions, a representation of a lack of discipline and outright frustration.

“I think (we were) careless,” Voracek said.

The Penguins, who boasted the NHL’s best power-play unit during the regular season, converted three of seven chances. They also exhausted some of the Flyers’ top offensive players, who too often had to play the penalty kill.

“It’s hard to really pinpoint what the trickle down is,” Hakstol said.

He pointed out that the Flyers’ top penalty killer, Couturier, played roughly just 11 minutes of his team-leading 26 minutes, 18 seconds of ice time at even strength.

“All the energy is burned killing on penalties in that span and on the other side, you’ve got other guys with no minutes played in that span, so that’s the first thing we have to address,” Hakstol added.

The last key: The Flyers cannot fall into a trap after something fails to go in their favor, especially because the Penguins have the killer instinct that more experienced teams possess.

In Game 3, it was Derrick Brassard’s goal early in the second period that put the Penguins up 2-0.

The Flyers were coming off a first period in which they dominated much of the play but still fell behind 1-0.

It was as if a vacuum sucked all the energy out of the building, from the Flyers’ bench to the crowd.

“It’s not time to panic here,” Claude Giroux, the team captain, said. “We play Wednesday here. Our guys will be ready, and we’re going to put this one behind us.

“We’ll do exactly what we did after Game 1. We’re going to look at what we did wrong and fix them.”

Contact: 609-272-7210 jrusso@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_Russo

I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July of 2013