Flyers Battle Islanders in Game Five and Escape Elimination
The evening started pretty well for the Flyers on Tuesday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. The first period saw the Flyers control play at even strength, piling up shot attempts and zone time possession. The Flyers seemed unthreatened by the Islanders initial forecheck attempts and were able to navigate through neutral territory and get puck deep into the offensive zone.
The team’s pace and energy was set by the top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, who handily won each of their first few shifts. Voracek was absolutely flying, displaying strong efforts gaining the zone and retrieving pucks like it was 2014.
The Flyers debuted a new look second and third lines, with Tyler Pitlick being moved up to join the Hayes-Farabee connection. Pitlick’s hustle was evident early causing a few turnovers early that his line mates were able to jump on.
Travis Konecny joined the third line wing after swapping his spot on the second line with Tyler Pitlick, accompanied by James van Riemsdyk and centered by Scott Laughton. This line looked good as well with Konecny and Laughton providing an infectious energy that seemed to stir the normally heavy legs of JVR.
The Flyers had their momentum stalled when Konecny was whistled for a phantom holding call. Given that the Flyers were wearing Islanders players like bad Christmas sweaters skating up ice in the latter stages of Game Four, it seemed a phantom call.
This was a reoccurring theme in Game Five. Fortunately, Carter Hart was able to stop the bleeding and neutralized each of the Islanders’ power play challenges.
After the kill the teams battled to a stalemate for the remainder of the period until Derek Grant was called for a tripping minor on Leo Komarov with 32 seconds remaining in the period.
The Flyers started the second period short-handed and it did not take much time for the Islanders to capitalize. Hart was able to turn away a Jordan Eberle shot, however in the ensuing scramble Josh Bailey put the puck in the net next to a recently deposited Tyler Pitlick.
Pitlick had tried to cancel Mathew Barzal, but ended up merely pinning Barzal in the crease while making himself in to a road block for Hart. Pitlick’s carcass prevented Hart from moving across the net to challenge Bailey who calmly put it in.
The suffering was not over for the Flyers, as head coach Alain Vigneault challenged the goal, claiming goaltender interference. The challenge was a stretch. It was an indication of how desperate the coaching staff was feeling. While Barzal did not hurry out of the crease, he did not initiate contact with Pitlick, and only touched Hart’s glove as the keeper took a swipe at him.
Vigneault’s choices on challenges makes me wonder if Andy Reid’s Time Out Management School gave the Flyers’ coach a free survey course on goal challenges. The Flyers were now down a goal and, again, down a man.
The Flyers managed an effective kill on the bench minor for the goal challenge, but the pace of play seemed to pickup with the teams trading chances, the Islanders getting the better of it. Hart was called on time and time again to diffuse dangerous situations. Hart’s efforts would be rewarded as Giroux scored his first goal of the playoffs deflecting a Phillipe Myers rocket from the point between the legs of Varlamov at 15:45.
The Flyers would score again a little more than two minutes later thanks to a van Riemsdyk one-timer on the rush from Laughton. Laughton collected the puck at his own blue line and accelerated into the left side of the Islanders zone. Laughton feathered a nice cross ice pass to van Riemsdyk who was able to squeeze a shot past the sprawling goaltender.
Though leading after two periods, it was not all good news for the Flyers. Couturier did not return to the bench to start the third period and left the game altogether after colliding with Barzal. It appears that Couturier sustained a right knee injury.
Compounding things, Laughton was sent to the box for interference fifty seconds into the period. This was another questionable call, especially when looking at some things they have let go.
Even without Couturier, the team was able to stifle the Islanders power play, which posed no significant danger over the duration of the penalty. The Flyers gained momentum from the kill that culminated with a Matt Niskanen goal at the 4:32 mark.
Niskanen launched a rocket just inside the right circle, getting a perfect rink wide feed from Travis Konency. The play was initiated by a Hayes steal that kept the puck in the Flyers’ offensive zone.
The two-goal lead stood for the next eleven minutes. As the minutes passed the Flyers seemed to be slowly losing focus and intensity. The Islanders raised their energy level with every shift and seemed to produce progressively more dangerous chances.
Things felt like they were getting more dangerous for the Flyers. Eventually Hart and the Flyers faltered as Brock Nelson hammered a one timer, from the very high slot, past the netminder’s ear.
This goal is probably one that Hart wished he could do over. It was not a simple chance, there was some traffic in front of Hart, and Nelson hit the puck hard, but this was something that Hart would typically stop.
The Islanders were reinvigorated by the goal and would score again less than two minutes later even without the services of Barzal who was injured by an inadvertent Giroux high stick.
The Islanders found their forechecking game, which had been absent for most of the first two periods, and had the Flyers pinned. After a sustained and focused forecheck, Cal Clutterbuck was able to make a great pass across the crease to a waiting Derick Brassard who tied the game, burying the chance into the open net.
After the Islanders tied the game the Flyers were lucky to escape to overtime, as the team seemed to be reeling from the goals. In the overtime the teams traded chances, with the Islanders having the advantage early on.
Robert Hagg was able to draw a tripping penalty giving the Flyers the man advantage. Unfortunately the power play continued to be toothless, failing to generate any dangerous chances , but it did seem to tilt the ice in their favor.
After a strong shift by the reunited Koencny-Hayes-Farabee line the Flyers were able to force an offensive zone draw. The reworked top line of Laughton-Giroux-Voracek was able to win the faceoff. Giroux, working a cycle, sent the puck back to Ivan Provorov at the point who fired a high shot goal-ward that Laughton was able to knock down and past Varlarmov at 12:20 of overtime.
Laughton was mobbed by his teammates and the weight of elimination was lifted as the team celebrated the win. We get to see the boys again on Thursday.