The New York Islanders might’ve experienced some deja vu following their 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday.
The game followed a similar pattern to the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime loss in Game 2. New York rallied from down 3-1 in the third period to force overtime in each game before losing.
This time, Flyers forward Scott Laughton scored the winning goal on a deflection 12:20 into overtime.
The loss prevented the Islanders from closing out the best-of-7 series, which they lead 3-2 with Game 6 in Toronto, the East hub city, on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Going into this series, everybody was thinking it might be a pretty long one; I was, anyways,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “But you want to close it out as quick as you can, and we weren’t able to do that tonight. That’s on us a little bit. We’ll have to regroup a little bit and focus on one game.”
New York also failed to clinch its Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Florida Panthers and its first-round series against the Washington Capitals on the first try before advancing on the second attempt. The Islanders hope that trend continues against the Flyers.
The odds remain in the Islanders’ favor. Teams with a 3-1 lead, which New York held after its 3-2 win in Game 4 on Sunday, are 285-29 (90.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoffs series, including 7-0 in the first two rounds this season.
The winner of this series advances to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. The Islanders are seeking to reach the conference final for the first time since 1993, but they weren’t able to eliminate the Flyers on Tuesday despite their comeback.
Brock Nelson beat goalie Carter Hart over his glove from the high slot to bring New York within 3-2 with 4:14 remaining before Derick Brassard tied it from outside the left post with 2:41 left.
“We started to get it going as the game went on, but after last game, not good enough when you’re trying to clinch a series,” Nelson said. “The team’s fighting to keep going, so we have to find a way to be a little bit better, come out of the gates, get on the attack and try to get a lead.”
The Islanders were fortunate to survive the first period despite being outshot 11-4, and they took a 1-0 lead on Mathew Barzal‘s power-play goal 1:20 into the second. But the Flyers responded to take a 2-1 lead with Claude Giroux‘s deflection with 4:15 left in the second period and James van Riemsdyk‘s 2-on-1 goal with 1:42 remaining in the second.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen increased Philadelphia’s lead to 3-1 by beating goalie Semyon Varlamov from the right circle 4:32 into the third period. Although the Islanders were able to come back to tie it after that and had some good chances to win in overtime, their earlier mistakes probably cost them their best opportunity to close out the series Tuesday.
“I’m going to say we need a little bit more,” Trotz said. “I thought our first period, they had a lot more desperation coming out of the gates than we did. I thought we stabilized the game. In the second, I thought we were coming pretty good We got the power-play goal, and then we made a couple of, I would say, questionable decisions, and they capitalized on their chances.”
The Islanders have to worry now about whether the Flyers’ big guns are waking up. Giroux and van Riemsdyk each scored his first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And the availability of first-line center Barzal for Game 6 is unknown after Giroux’s stick struck him under his visor with 4:47 left in the third and he missed the remainder of the game.
The Flyers face a similar unknown with their No. 1 center, Sean Couturier, after he was shaken up on a collision with Barzal late in the second period and missed the third period and overtime. But Philadelphia was able to pull out the victory without Couturier and now has hope heading into Game 6.
“You’re going through adversity throughout the playoffs and we’ll be ready next game,” Islanders forward Jordan Eberle said. “We’re going to have to bring our best because it’s just getting tighter and tighter and, obviously, we want to close it out.”