By Lenn Robbins
The worst thing about a Game 6, if you’re the team that held a 3-1 series lead, is that it can lead to a Game 7, where one fluke goal, one hot goalie, one foolish penalty or non-call leads to a sudden, shocking end to a magical skate ride.
That’s exactly where the Islanders find themselves after Tuesday night’s gut-retching, 4-3, overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 in Toronto. Suddenly there are enough warning signs to make the most confident Islanders fan wary.
For the second straight game, the Islanders were outplayed for significant portions. They trailed 3-1 and had been outshot 22-13 with about 15 minutes left in regulation.
Rising star Matt Barzal took a high stick to the eye in the third period (no penalty?!) and did not return.
But the Islanders showed their depth and resilience by rallying to force overtime on goals by Brock Nelson at 15:46 and former Ranger Derick Brassard at 17:19. Coach Barry Trotz swapped Brassard for Matt Martin and it paid off.
Nelson almost won it in OT when he snuck behind the Philadelphia defense only to be stopped by Carter Hart. Hart possibly could have been called for delay of game minutes later when he caught the puck behind his net and skated into the crease to freeze it.
Minutes later Scott Laughton deflected an Ivan Provorov slap shot down and past Varlamov at 12:20. Each team got 32 shots on goal and the Islanders outhit the Flyers 56-53. Game 6 is Thursday and how’s this for a disconcerting subplot.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault has twice led Rangers teams back from 3-1 playoff deficits, once against Trotz’s Washington team in 2015. In NHL history, a team has come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series 29 times, four of those comebacks being from down 3-0.
The Islanders are trying to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. They are the No.6 seed in the East in these Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flyers are the top seed.