By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
The belief entering Game 5 was that for the Flyers to have a chance in this series, it wasn’t going to be by winning Tuesday’s game with just a few good spurts of play. It was going to take a full 60.
For 55 minutes, the Flyers were there. They did a lot of the right things. They weathered the storm when the Islanders had a push. They got timely goals. And it sure seemed like they were starting to have time on their side.
The dreaded two-goal lead struck again. With under five minutes to play, the Islanders got a sense of life. They quickly answered the bell and delivered another blow to the Flyers playoff hopes. Just like that, overtime was needed.
But just like in Game 2, when the Flyers let another 3-1 lead in the third period get away, they had the answer in overtime. It took over 12 minutes, but the Flyers remain alive in the series with a deflection goal by Scott Laughton.
Here are 5 takeaways from Flyers-Islanders Game 5.
1. Strong Opening Statement
In Game 2, the Flyers opened up a 3-0 lead in the first period. In Game 3, they got a late goal to take a 1-0 lead. In Game 4, they struggled in the last half of the period and came out in a scoreless tie. In Game 5, they played one of their best opening periods of the series with nothing to show for it, but they at least announced their presence.
If anything, the Flyers have not had a first period in this series where the game wasn’t within reach. There have been opportunities to take over the game from there and the Flyers have needed to do what they finally did in Game 5.
After a really strong showing in the first period, the Flyers had taken a late penalty that gave the Islanders a chance to score the game’s first goal. Early in the second period, they did, and the Flyers lost a goalie interference challenge that left them shorthanded again. They had to weather another storm from the Islanders, but they finally seemed to carry some of the structure from the opening period over to the second and got the lead. That’s important going forward.
2. Putting the “Big Boy Pants” On
Alain Vigneault spoke prior to Game 5 and said that this was the time for some of the veterans to “put their big boy pants on” and step up. What a time to get your first goals of the postseason from Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and Matt Niskanen.
Start with Giroux’s, which is the same style of goal that had been scored in Game 4. Sean Couturier throws the puck through the crease off the boards and back to Phil Myers, not a low-to-high play by pure definition, but it gets the puck out high nonetheless. Myers gets control and Giroux goes to the net. The shot by Myers gets tipped by Giroux and beats Semyon Varlamov to tie the game at a crucial spot, with under five minutes to play in the second.
With just under two minutes left in the period, another chance emerges. A lot of this setup should be credited to Travis Konecny, who helps to disrupt the stick of Adam Pelech entering the zone and pushes the loose puck ahead to Laughton. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had moved over to provide support, and gets caught in the transition play. Suddenly, the Flyers have numbers.
It’s so rare to get this kind of chance on the Islanders. They simply don’t give up many with their structured play. Laughton has van Riemsdyk with him and gets the pass across and he is able to fire a quick shot that Varlamov gets a piece of, but cannot save. Just like that, the Flyers had the lead.
Another turnover helped the Flyers early in the third. Kevin Hayes makes a play at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. He feeds Konecny and the Islanders now have three players caught face-off circles. Konecny pulls up and waits for help, and threads a pass through coverage to Niskanen. He winds up and fires from the right circle and beats Varlamov for a big insurance goal.
In the moments when they were needed the most, just about everyone in the Flyers top six stepped up and contributed. Talk about putting your big boy pants on when it mattered most.
3. Another Late Collapse
Now to the downside of this game. It’s a 4-3 Flyers win in overtime that keeps their season alive, but it didn’t come without the frustration of the final five minutes and another blown 3-1 lead.
Start with Brock Nelson’s goal, and there are several things that go wrong on this one. The Flyers actually have the zone well covered on this entry. It’s a clean entry for Josh Bailey after he goes around Konecny in the neutral zone, but the Flyers have four players back and are mostly protecting the slot. Nelson is out at the high slot with three players close to him. Joel Farabee really gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the quick release by Nelson goes right underneath his stick. Travis Sanheim is also in front of Carter Hart providing a bit of a screen. But ultimately, this one falls on Hart. It’s a routine play from a bit of a distance and for as sharp as he’d been, you expect him to make a save there.
Nelson’s goal couldn’t have come at a worse time. You expected the Islanders to have a push, but getting a goal with 4:14 left gave them plenty of time to smell a comeback. It took just 93 seconds for them to completely erase the two-goal deficit.
This is an interesting situation for the Flyers, who are caught between lines. Nate Thompson is on the ice, but so are Konecny and Hayes. Robert Hagg is on the ice, but with Myers and not Justin Braun.
Whatever the reason, it feels like everybody is out of sorts on this play. Thompson gets outmuscled by Cal Clutterbuck. Four Flyers go into puck-watching mode while Derick Brassard sneaks behind the net.
Clutterbuck smartly disguises a power move to the net or a reverse back to the point, but instead swings a backhand pass through the netmouth that goes by everybody and right to Brassard. Even Hart gets caught focusing too much on Clutterbuck and playing the power move, and is late to push off to the other side. Brassard doesn’t miss from there and just like that, the game was tied.
4. Another OT Victory
Just like in Game 2, it felt like a game the Flyers didn’t deserve to win, strictly for the finish. And in this overtime, there wasn’t a decision in the first three minutes to reduce the stress that playoff overtime brings.
In fact, in the first three minutes, there were close chances for both sides to win the game. Konecny set up Hayes with a cross-ice pass that was sealed off by Varlamov. A shot by Konecny was deflected by Hayes and hit the crossbar. At the other end of the ice, Hart made a sliding stop on Devon Toews on a two-on-one, then stopped Nelson on a breakaway.
The Flyers did let a power play in overtime go by the wayside, one of the few man-advantage chances they have had in the series, but stayed the course and got the victory.
The goal that won it for the Flyers wasn’t too different from the winner in Game 2. Just 20 second before the game-winning goal, the Islanders iced the puck. From that point, the puck doesn’t leave the Islanders zone. Ivan Provorov keeps it in off the face-off win. The Islanders get a chance to clear and don’t get near enough on it and Niskanen holds the line. Laughton takes a good angle to a loose puck on the sideboards and gets it behind the net to Giroux.
Giroux puts a pass off the boards and out high to Provorov with a lot of space. He’s got the lane for a shot and lets it go. As Provorov releases it, Laughton is in between two Islanders at the front of the net and Jake Voracek comes cruising through the slot too. With all that traffic, the shot hits Laughton’s stick and goes in, giving the Flyers the win.
5. A Crucial Loss, Even in Victory
As great as the Flyers win is to keep the season going, it may have come without a lot less stress if not for the loss of one of their most important players. Late in the second period, a collision between Couturier and Mathew Barzal resulted in Couturier heading to the bench in pain. He took one more shift for 19 seconds. At the start of the third period, he was not on the bench and did not return.
For the Flyers to find a way to win in overtime after losing that lead without their top forward speaks volumes, but playing without him for an entire game with your season on the line could be detrimental to the Flyers.
Of course, recent memory shows that Couturier had a pretty strong game on one leg in his last playoff appearance in 2018, but it doesn’t make the task any easier, especially against a team like this. The Flyers will definitely be on edge for the next couple of days for the status of Couturier. Don’t be surprised if Couturier plays, but it’s not impossible for the Flyers to hit everyone with the “unfit to play” status if Couturier just isn’t feeling right in time for Game 6.