Nobody needs to remind the New York Islanders the clinching game of a postseason series is the toughest to win.
For the third time this postseason, the Islanders will take a second crack at closing out a series Thursday night when they are scheduled to face the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Toronto.
The top-seeded Flyers staved off a furious third-period comeback by the sixth-seeded Islanders and avoided elimination Tuesday night, when Scott Laughton scored with 7:40 left in overtime to lift Philadelphia to a 4-3 win. New York forced the extra session by scoring twice in the final 4:14 of regulation without star center Mathew Barzal, who exited when he was accidentally hit in the face by Claude Giroux’s stick.
The Islanders came within inches of recording the series-winning goal early in overtime, but Flyers goalie Carter Hart smothered Devon Toews’ point-blank shot between his legs 1:36 into the extra session. Hart deflected a breakaway by Brock Nelson less than three minutes later.
“In the third period, I thought we were coming and obviously we were able to get it tied up,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “And we had some early chances in the overtime, some Grade-As that if we score on them, we’re not having this conversation.”
Instead, the Islanders are discussing a familiar topic. New York won the first two games of its qualifying round series against the Florida Panthers before dropping Game 3, and took the first three games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals before falling in Game 4.
“They’re always the hardest games,” Trotz said. “Going into this series I think everybody was thinking it might be a pretty long one — I thought it was, anyways. But you want to close it out as quick as you can. We weren’t able to do that tonight, so that’s on us a little bit. We’ll have to regroup a little bit.”
The task is still a tall one for the Flyers against the Islanders, who are 2-for-2 in this summer’s second chances to eliminate an opponent after beating the Panthers in Game 4 and the Capitals in Game 5.
“That team on the other side is an experienced team that’s a real sound fundamental hockey team, and you have to earn every inch out there,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said.
A win by the Islanders will send them to the conference finals for the first time since 1993 — when they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the then-Wales Conference finals — against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flyers, who are trying to come back from a 3-1 deficit for just the second time in franchise history, are hoping to force a Game 7 on Saturday night.
“Any time you win in the playoffs in overtime, it’s big,” Vigneault said. “I really liked our compete level tonight. Our guys came to play and that’s what we’re going to do next game also.”
Trotz said Wednesday he hoped Barzal was trending towards playing Thursday. Vigneault didn’t have an update on center Sean Couturier, who didn’t play after the second period after banging knees with Barzal.
Both centers were listed as questionable in Wednesday’s injury report.
–Field Level Media