Flyers stay alive on Laughton overtime winner to force Game Six against Islanders

Even if they tried their best to hand back a game they played well enough in, the Flyers survived a brutal conclusion to the third period to stay alive against the Islanders. Despite allowing the Isles to score twice in the last four plus minutes, they were saved by Scott Laughton, who redirected a Ivan Provorov shot to win Game Five in overtime 4-3.

It never should’ve gotten there. For much of regulation, the Flyers outplayed the Islanders, who were seeking a first trip to the Conference Finals since 1993. Following a scoreless first period they controlled, Philadelphia fell behind early in the second due to a weird Islander power play goal from Mat Barzal.

After Barzal was shoved into Carter Hart, Josh Bailey centered the puck in front. It took a funny carom off a Flyer and Barzal to go in. Of course, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault challenged it unsuccessfully. The play was a continuation due to Barzal being shoved from behind. It wasn’t good usage of a challenge which handed the Isles a golden opportunity. Instead, the Flyers killed off the second straight Islanders power play.

Finally beginning to create a forecheck and find space, the Flyers turned the tables on their opponent by scoring the period’s final two goals. Ironically, the first one came from Flyer captain Claude Giroux. The much critiqued star forward was finally able to get one when he neatly deflected a Phillipe Myers point shot past Semyon Varlamov to tie the score. It was his first of the postseason. More importantly, it gave him confidence. He also assisted on another goal and was one of the game’s three stars.

Philadelphia number one center Sean Couturier following a collision. He was in pain due to a leg injury. It could be a knee or something else. Vigneault didn’t provide an update on his status for tomorrow. Considering what happened, it’s doubtful he’ll play in Game Six.

Without Couturier, the Flyers showed some life. Another player who had struggled also hit the score sheet. James van Riemsdyk took advantage of a rare Isles breakdown to snap a wrist shot past Varlamov for a 2-1 lead. Travis Konecny picked up an assist. He had a good game registering two helpers. He’s still without a goal despite generating chances.

Vigneault didn’t change much, but made one line adjustment that worked by moving van Riemsdyk up to the second line with Konecny and Kevin Hayes. They were good. Rookie Joel Farabee slid down to the third line with Laughton and Tyler Pitlick. Eventually, Laughton was moved up to the top line once Couturier didn’t return. Another move that worked.

Prior to last night’s game, the Flyers had struggled to score at five-on-five due to the Islanders stingy defense. They were much more effective. Leading by one in the third, they continued to press the attack. Some sustained pressure resulted in Hayes and Konecny combining to set up Matt Niskanen for a rocket by Varlamov. The defenseman went high to the far post to make it 3-1 with 15:28 remaining.

At that point, the shots were in favor of the Flyers, 25-14. However, they opted to sit back. Like they had in Game Two when a 3-0 lead wasn’t enough to prevent an Isles comeback, Philly started backing up. Rather than continue attacking, they let the more desperate Islanders regain momentum. A resilient team that is used to coming back, they clawed their way back late.

While the Flyers shot total stayed at 26 for the longest time, the Islanders kept coming. They had 11 of the next 12 shots. Eventually, one went in to make things interesting. On a good play through the neutral zone started by Scott Mayfield, Bailey worked his way into the Philly zone and fed an open Brock Nelson, who quickly let go of a long one-timer that surprised Hart to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 4:14 left.

At that point, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Isles tied it. You cannot sit back. The Flyers ceded the blueline and gave the Islanders too much room. They got burned by Cal Clutterbuck, who made a nice backhand pass across for a Derick Brassard goal with 2:41 to go. It was only Brassard’s third shift of the period. He made the most of it.

The Isles came back without Barzal, who left the contest due to a Giroux high stick that cut his face on a follow-through. It was close to the eye. Barry Trotz didn’t provide an update. They’ll know more on the top center by Thursday. He didn’t return for overtime, forcing Trotz to double shift the effective Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He centered the top line with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee.

Even though they were far from their best which Trotz called the worst game of the playoffs, the Isles forced sudden death. Similar to Game Two, they were unable to complete the comeback.

Both teams came out looking to end it. It made for exciting hockey. The Islanders fired shots on Hart from everywhere. At one point, they held a 7-1 edge. However, the scoring chances were even.

The Flyers got two early with Hayes all set up for the winner in front until a sliding Varlamov got across to deny him. Off a face-off win, they hit the goalpost on a tip try.

Then, it was the Isles turn. They had two great chances to end the series. One came on a clean breakaway for Nelson, who was robbed by Hart pointblank. He also made a great save on a two-on-one by closing up the pads despite looking behind him.

Finally, Giroux came out with the puck and found Provorov up top. He wisely waited for an Islander to go down before moving around and letting go of a good wrist shot that Laughton perfectly tipped in for the overtime winner at 12:20. The NHL did check to make sure it was legal. Replays were conclusive and the Flyers celebrated.

Game Six is tomorrow night.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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