This might have been good enough in November, probably wouldn’t have been good enough in any playoff game, but most certainly was not good enough in a potential clincher facing a desperate opponent.
And so the Islanders got what they deserved on Tuesday, beaten in overtime 4-3 by the Flyers on Scott Laughton’s redirect at 12:20 in Game 5 of their second-round series that will be necessary to continue on Thursday with Game 6.
“Not good enough to clinch a series against a team that is fighting to keep going,” said Brock Nelson, who scored one in regulation but was denied by Carter Hart on a breakaway 4:15 into OT. “We have to find a way to be a little bit better coming out of the gates, get on the attack and try to get a lead.”
The Islanders dominated the final 15:28 of the third after Matt Niskanen’s goal gave Philly a 3-1 lead at 4:32. Outshot by 25-13 at that point, the Islanders then poured 12 of the next 13 shots on Hart’s net. But through two periods, the Flyers had out-attempted the Islanders, 43-20. It was kind of that way in Game 4, as well, one that Barry Trotz called the team’s “worst of the playoffs” despite the 3-2 victory.
So it has become a bit of a pattern, somewhat surprising for a team that approaches its tasks so methodically and purposefully. Of course, there is an opponent lining up on the other side, too, and this is one that has some pedigree of playoff comebacks from behind the bench.
The Islanders have lost four games under the bubble, and three of them have come on their first clinching chance in each of their three series. They lost to Florida in Game 3 of the qualifying-round best-of-five before knocking out the Panthers the next time. They lost to Washington in Game 4 of the first round before taking out the Caps the next time.
And now they have lost to the Flyers, whose coach, Alain Vigneault, is the only coach in NHL history to lead teams to victory back from 3-1 down in consecutive seasons. You may remember the Rangers of 2014 doing that to Pittsburgh and the Rangers of 2015 doing that to Washington.
Whether you do or not, Vigneault assuredly does.
Yes, the Islanders can bring some measure of confidence into Thursday’s contest off the stirring late comeback in which Nelson and Derick Brassard scored within 1:33 late in the third period to send the match into OT after trailing 3-1 deep into regulation. Brassard’s tying goal at 17:19 came on BGB’s third shift of the period.
But they might have to play without Mat Barzal, who left the match for good with 4:47 remaining in the third period after he was clipped around the eye by Claude Giroux’s stick on a follow-through. Meanwhile, the Flyers played the third period and overtime without their first-line center, Sean Couturier, who exited following a mid-ice collision.
“I don’t have an update,” Trotz said. “We’ll see what it is and hopefully I will have a better idea [Wednesday].
The Islanders did scratch their way back without No. 13 and they did have ample opportunity to win it in OT without their wizard. J-G Pageau stepped up into the middle between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle and though No. 44 did just fine, he isn’t Barzal.
Of course, Laughton, who moved up to the first line with Giroux — who scored his first goal of the postseason late in the second period to tie the score after Josh Bailey’s power-play goal early in the session had given the Islanders a 1-0 edge — and Jakub Voracek, is no Couturier, either.
Oh, but wait. Laughton scored the winning and season-saving goal on a midair deflection off a right point shot by Ivan Provorov. It was the second such goal of the game for the Flyers, who were able to create much more time and space in the offensive zone than is customary for the Islanders to allow.
Again. There was nothing at all missing (other than Barzal for part of it) from the Islanders’ five-on-five game during their late third-period surge and through OT. But, after coming into the match having outscored their opponents 28-12 at full strength, the Flyers had all three five-on-five goals until Nelson scored at 15:46 of the third.
Attention to detail was wanting and defensive-zone play was not nearly crisp enough. Maybe it would have been good enough sometime in the regular season and maybe even at some time in the playoffs.
But this one?
Not good enough.
The conference finals the franchise has been waiting for since 1993 will have to wait until at least Thursday.