TORONTO — The Islanders have squandered two opportunities to knock off the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers and put their mark on franchise history, but they have one final chance on Saturday.
The Flyers forced a Game 7 on Thursday by winning their second straight game, 5-4, in double overtime at Scotiabank Arena.
All of Philadelphia’s wins in the series have come after regulation. This time, defenseman Ivan Provorov beat Semyon Varlamov with 4 minutes 57 seconds left in the second overtime period.
The Islanders, who once held a 3-1 lead in the series, are trying to claim a place in franchise history by becoming the first team in 27 years to advance to the conference finals.
That 1993 Islanders team, led by the Hall of Fame Coach Al Arbour, ran into resistance from the Montreal Canadiens, who eventually won the Stanley Cup — the last time a Canadian team has won it.
For the second straight game, the Islanders needed one goal in overtime to eliminate the Flyers and couldn’t get it. But it was not for lack of chances, with the top line of Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle — plus Anthony Beauvillier — all getting high-quality opportunities.
Over all, the Islanders outshot Philadelphia, 53-31. But the Flyers controlled play in the second overtime period, outshooting the Islanders, 8-2.
“We didn’t bury our chances,” Lee said.
The Islanders had a glorious opportunity to put the game away in the closing minutes of regulation, when the Flyers were called for a tripping penalty. But the Islanders’ power play, which was 1 for 5, looked flat. The best chance came off the stick of Eberle, who was on Carter Hart’s doorstep, but he shot wide. Eberle has gone 10 games without a goal.
The Islanders had carried a one-goal lead into the final period after Barzal scored his fifth goal of the playoffs at 19:30 of the second period.
But on the Flyers’ first shot of the third period, Scott Laughton, who had scored the overtime winner in Game 5, beat Varlamov on a breakaway to tie the score, 4-4. It was a costly breakdown for the Islanders, who had just finished an ineffective power play and had only one defenseman on the ice.
On the winning goal, a shot that was fired from just inside the blue line, Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield was playing without a stick after he broke it coming back down the ice on defense and couldn’t get to the bench in time to get a replacement.
“We had a lot of chances to win that hockey game,” Coach Barry Trotz said, “and that’s the tough part about the game and the playoffs.
“You can dominate, you can get lots of chances, then, you know, we win the draw, we get it back to our point and we break a stick and they come down and score,” he added. “That’s playoff hockey. It’s stuff that’s not in our control. You’ve just got to battle through. We’re going through a little adversity. I don’t think we went through a lot of adversity through Florida and Washington.”
The Flyers were down two key forwards in Game 6 with Sean Couturier and Joel Farabee out of the lineup. But the Flyers got an emotional boost with the return of Oskar Lindblom, a 24-year-old Swede who hadn’t played since Dec. 7, 2019. Shortly after, he learned he had a rare form of bone cancer. He completed his treatments earlier this summer.
Before Game 5, Flyers Coach Alain Vigneault had demanded more from his underperforming veterans. And they responded. Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and defenseman Matt Niskanen scored their first goals of the postseason in a 4-3 Flyers overtime win.
Vigneault was hardly new to this rallying cry. As coach of the Rangers, he had inspired comebacks from 3-1 deficits twice in 2014 over the Pittsburgh Penguins and in 2015 over the Washington Capitals, both in the second round.
Going into the Game 6, the Islanders faced mounting questions about their ability to finish off an opponent. They were 0-3 in their first attempts at closing out a series.
The winner of this series will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, who knocked out the Boston Bruins, to decide who goes to the Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton.
“The fourth win is always the toughest,” Trotz said. “No one’s going to give it to you. You can’t go around it. You’ve got to go through it. And you got to have that little bit of killer instinct.”
“If you really look at the big picture, it’s probably fitting that there is a Game 7,” Trotz said after Thursday’s game.
The Islanders perhaps had become guilty of thinking too much about their place in history.
Before Game 5, Lee, their captain, said that it felt “special” to think that this Islanders team could be compared to the 1993 team or the 1980s championship teams.
“In a playoff run like this, it’s hard not to, at times, day dream and to have wonderful thoughts,” Lee said.
Matt Martin, who scored the tying goal in the second period, said he and his teammates know what’s at stake.
“It’s Game 7 and our season is on the line,” he said. “These moments don’t come around often.”