By Lenn Robbins
This was a game the Islanders had no business winning after the first period. Trailing 3-0 with starting goalie and playoff sensation Semyon Varlamov pulled in favor of Thomas Greiss, the Flyers had the Islanders right where they wanted them.
And then Philly’s resident headache, Matt Niskanen, put a big shoulder to chest hit on Scott Mayfield. Suddenly the game changed, the ice tilted and the Islanders scored three straight to force overtime.
A lost draw and some confusion in front of the net cost the Islanders. They lost 4-3 in OT and go into Thursday night’s Game 3 with the series tied 1-1. But make no mistake, the Islanders, with the exception of that first period when the Flyers, as expected, came hard, have been the better team in this series in four periods of six periods.
None of this, of course, is consolation to coach Barry Trotz. But he knows if his team plays as it should from the get-go, the Islanders can win this series. They’ve been the better team.
“You want to complete the comeback, that’s the disappointing part,” Trotz said. “The positive part is it reinforces a lot of the things you do to get back in the game.”
And that’s the mindset the Islanders have going into pivotal Game 3.
“I thought we just stuck with it,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “We came back after the first, refocused, made sure we were coming back and just getting back to the simple things, work hard, and do all the simple plays and get back as a unit of five and attack as a unit of five. I thought we did a really good job in the second and in the third to put pressure on them, and that’s why we came back.”
Trotz did not commit to a goalie but with the exception of the first period in which Varlamov might want one of the three Flyers goals back, he has been nothing short of exceptional. In fact, by holding the Flyers scoreless for the first 40 seconds of the game, Varlamov set the Islanders playoff record for shutout hockey by going 138.17 without allowing a goal. Billy Smith held the record of 136.59 set in 1980 when the Islanders were a hockey dynasty.
“We didn’t give him any help,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “That’s not on Varly, that’s on us in front of him. He’s backed us up enough.”