By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
There are moments within a game where you need your best players to carry you. It’s usually when you lean on your goaltending for a big save or a top scorer to deliver the punch needed that gives you the edge.
For a lot of the game, the Flyers did get the big save from Carter Hart. But noticeably absent were the top players who helped establish a 3-0 lead in Game 2.
The Flyers need more from these players, especially if they are to see this playoff run go any further. They need their top scorers. They need their best performers. They need the guys who get the most ice time to really earn it. They need their leadership group to step up on the ice.
It didn’t happen in Game 3, that’s for sure. For two periods, the Islanders imposed their will, smothered the Flyers and didn’t allow much of anything. They were once again opportunistic, once again ready to bounce on chances, once again simply the better team overall.
Here are 5 takeaways from Game 3 of Flyers-Islanders.
1. No Shows at the Top
When it comes to top players, we tend to focus on the offensive numbers. And in most cases, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. In this series, the silence is deafening. It speaks volumes to why the Flyers are struggling and the Islanders are thriving.
The Flyers have five goals in the series. Two are from Kevin Hayes, his second and third in the playoffs. One from Sean Couturier, his first of the playoffs. The other goals are by Phil Myers, the overtime game-winner in Game 2, and Tyler Pitlick, the only goal the Flyers scored in Game 3.
The Flyers have consistently rolled the top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek and the second line of Hayes, Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee. The top six combined to be a minus-6 in Game 3. The same six were a minus-9 in Game 1. Not only is this collection of top players not scoring, but they are not defending well either.
So much of this group’s success starts in the defensive zone. They have played a tight game throughout. Now they are being exposed. They are trying to be too creative offensively, and a team that plays defense like the Islanders can snuff that out in an instant. They get caught trying to bring that creativity into the neutral zone and it leads to turnovers against a transition team. And too many times, especially in the offensive zone, this group doesn’t show the will necessary to win puck battles and take control.
That is what will be the difference in this series. The Islanders top six, meanwhile, has factored into every game. Anders Lee has scored in all three games. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has scored in two. Jordan Eberle has three assists in the series. And even the players who haven’t piled up the stats have looked dangerous.
That’s where the Flyers are lacking. You make a long run and get this far into the playoffs by having depth, but you don’t go all the way if you can’t get standout performances from your top players. The Flyers got some of that in Game 2 and still took their foot off the gas and let the Islanders take over. When they needed those players the most in Game 3, they were no shows.
2. Strong Start from Third Line
Scott Laughton returned to the third line and the trio of Laughton, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Pitlick factored into the Flyers only goal. Laughton did some great work to maintain possession and early on looked more like the player from the Round Robin.
Pitlick got the payoff with a goal, taking a shot from an angle and beating Semyon Varlamov. It was the type of shot you wanted to see the Flyers attempt all game, but that they seldom had down the stretch.
For most of the game, this was the line that came the closest to getting the Flyers on the board again, and while it was good to see Laughton have a solid game all things considered, it showed the lack of support that the Flyers top six provided.
3. Backbreaking Goal
It was pretty evident, even with more than half of the second period remaining, that the Flyers were more or less just trying to survive the period already. The Islanders were flat-out taking it to them and getting the game to the third period in a tie could at least keep the game within reach.
The Flyers were 15 seconds away from that. That’s when a turnover by Ivan Provorov at the blue line kept the Islanders alive. Leo Komarov got a stick on the clearing attempt and Derick Brassard leapt to keep it in the zone.
The Flyers were out of sorts after that, getting a save from Hart, but then not taking care of business again to end the period. Matt Niskanen lost a puck battle to Brassard, who centered for Komarov. Komarov had to gain control, take a shot and still managed to beat Hart, who was partially screened on the attempt.
The Islanders scored what would be the eventual game-winner with 5.1 seconds left in the period.
That one goal did not have to define the game, but it turned out to be the backbreaker. The Islanders had the momentum and continued to carry the play from there into the third period. The Flyers never recovered.
4. Special Teams Advantage
For two periods, the Islanders were the better team without the benefit of a power play. So when Robert Hagg took the first penalty of the game early in the third, you could feel the tide shift again.
There was Anders Lee in his office to make the Flyers pay again. At that point, Lee’s third goal of the series created a mountain too tall to climb. Even with a full two-minute 6-on-4 late, the Flyers were never able to get close to getting back into the game. The Islanders were able to play their game for the rest of the way, and cruise to the 2-1 series lead.
5. Fast Response
Now comes the real challenge for the Flyers. The frustration is once again going to be high and they need Game 4 to keep this a series. And they have to do it on Sunday night, just 24 hours later.
The Islanders certainly have this series in their control, and it is going to take a huge effort for the Flyers to even the series. Once again, we are reminded that the Flyers have not lost back-to-back games since early January. And if this is where that streak comes to an end, it will most likely mean the end of the series.
So this is what it comes down to – the Flyers need a win in a game that comes on the back end of a back-to-back against a team that has been smothering all series. It’s a tall task, but it will ultimately be what determines if this team can even reach the conference final or not. If they can stand up to this team and win a game on the back end of a back-to-back to even the series again, they won’t be able to come back. It’s truly do or die time for the Flyers now, and they need to act like it.