It isn’t easy to close out a series. The Islanders have now twice learned that lesson by blowing two chances to advance to their first Eastern Conference Final in 27 years. Now, if they want to face the Lightning next round, they’ll have to get the fourth game in a do or die Game Seven.
After working overtime to extend the series, the Flyers worked double overtime to force a deciding game on Saturday night. In a wild and strange game that saw the Islanders hold a huge edge in shots and attempts, it was the opportunistic Flyers who needed a game-tying Scott Laughton goal and an Ivan Provorov OT winner to pull out Game Six 5-4.
Maybe someone likes the Flyers up there. They were badly outplayed for a good margin of last night’s game by the Islanders. Playing with more urgency, Barry Trotz’ club looked like they were on their way to eliminating the Flyers. After giving up the first two goals to Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk 1:36 apart on a pair of breakdowns, they responded by scoring the next three goals.
Following the expiration of a power play, Devon Toews found Derick Brassard in front for a great tip in that made it 2-1 with 3:27 left in the first period. It was his second consecutive game with a goal. Brassard has two goals and an assist in the last two games.
The strange part was the Flyers still led despite being outshot 10-5. This was a theme throughout Thursday night. They would run into trouble at the start of the second. On a good feed from Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin tied it up early in the period. Flyers coach Alain Vigneault unsuccessfully challenged the goal for goalie interference. It was correctly upheld due to it being a Flyer responsible for a collision with Carter Hart.
That mistake quickly became a double whammy for Vigneault because it handed the Isles a power play. On it, captain Anders Lee put them ahead thanks to a pass from Mat Barzal. He was cleared to play after missing the remainder of the third and overtime in Game Five due to getting cut by the eye from a follow-through. He showed no signs of slowing down and was the Islanders’ best player.
As they continued to pile up the shots on Hart, who gave his team a chance with 49 saves including 38 in regulation, the Flyers somehow made the most of their first scoring chance in the second. On some good work from Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who skated around until he found enough room to fire a low shot on Semyon Varlamov, Michael Raffl rebounded the puck home to tie the score at three.
Despite the Islanders leading in shots by a significant margin, they were tied. They continued to apply the pressure late. Some sloppy defensive play from Philly allowed Brassard to find Barzal open at the left circle. The center sent a perfect wrist high glove past Hart at 19:30 to give the Isles a 4-3 lead at intermission.
Despite getting outshot 28-13, the Flyers still only trailed by one. They didn’t generate a lot of offense, but made the most of their opportunities. Even crazier, they only could muster four shots in the third. However, one of the four went in. None of the 14 the Islanders took got by Hart. He was the difference in this elimination game. Brilliant would be one way to describe his performance. He never buckled.
Nearly midway through the period, Claude Giroux sent Laughton on a clean breakaway. He didn’t make any mistake. Going to a beautiful forehand deke, Laughton tucked home his fifth of the postseason to knot the score at four with 10:07 remaining. He once again centered the first line in place of injured top pivot Sean Couturier. His status remains unknown for the third of three Game Seven’s on Labor Day Weekend.
The other two are tonight. All three second round series have seen teams dig out of 3-1 deficits to force a deciding game. Later, it’s the Avalanche looking to complete the comeback against the Stars. Then, the Canucks try to pull off a miracle against the Golden Knights thanks to Thatcher Demko (91 saves on 92 shots in place of injured Jacob Markstrom). That’s a back-to-back. So, it’ll be interesting to see what Demko and Vancouver have left.
The Islanders had a chance to put away the Flyers late in regulation. With Justin Braun off for tripping Martin, their power play couldn’t quite get it done against the stingy Hart. He had help from the penalty kill led by Hayes, who was again a factor. The former Ranger leads the team in scoring this playoffs. His line with Travis Konecny and whoever Vigneault sees fit have been their most effective versus the Isles.
It was also a special night with Oskar Lindblom returning from bone cancer. He played on the second line. Maybe his return helped inspire the Flyers to keep coming back. Who knows. They are Oskar Strong.
In spite of getting outshot 42-17 in regulation, the Flyers were much better in overtime. They played the Islanders even in sudden death. Both teams got their chances. Jordan Eberle couldn’t quite beat Hart with his backhand going over the net. Barzal had a rebound opportunity go by the wayside due to a key block from Matt Niskanen while on the power play.
The Flyers wasted two power plays in the first overtime. After not registering a shot on one, they had exactly two minutes left with Eberle off for delay of game. However, a bad pinch from Travis Sanheim forced him to hook Casey Cizikas from behind at center ice to even it up. On the four-on-four, the Isles surprisingly waited too long to attack with both Barzal and interesting Trotz choice Jean-Gabriel Pageau out.
After the remainder of the Isles five-on-four expired, their offense dried up. In fact, they only were able to get two shots on Hart in the second OT. Things tightened up. It was a battle for every square inch.
When it looked like Scott Mayfield had a chance to shoot, his stick broke. That allowed the Flyers to escape trouble and quickly transition the opposite way. It was the strong skating and vision of Hayes that created the winner. Able to carry the puck deep, he had the presence of mind to send a back pass to an open Provorov. With Mayfield scrambling to get a new twig, it was enough time for Provorov to send a good wrist shot through a maze of players that snuck through Varlamov for the winner at 15:03 of double overtime.
The result was a nice celebration at the Flyers bench with even Vigneault letting out a grin while jumping in the air. Why not? He’s been in this position before, doing it twice with the Rangers in the same round. Can he pull it off again with a different team? We’ll see.
Give the Flyers credit for showing a lot of character. They are very much alive with Saturday’s start at 7:30 PM following the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on NBC. It certainly should attract some fans.
You have to wonder what the Islanders are thinking. The three games they’ve won have all come in regulation. The three they’ve lost all went to overtime. They haven’t been able to finish off the Flyers despite looking like the better team.
Don’t forget in 2015, a Vigneault coached team came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun a Trotz coached team. The Rangers over the Flyers with also sudden death a factor in Games Five and Seven. Will history repeat itself?
It’ll also be interesting to see if Trotz sticks with Varlamov. He gave up five goals on 31 shots. He should’ve had the van Riemsdyk goal. I don’t think he is to blame. But remember how well Thomas Greiss played in his only start during Game Four. We’ll see what he decides.
In a very weird year, hockey fans are about to have the best theater to conclude three second round series. Game Seven. It doesn’t get any better. Can any of the three teams complete a 3-1 comeback? The game is the true winner. The Lightning await Saturday’s winner.