For a while, it looked like Oskar Lindblom’s remarkable return to the ice would last for one game. His Philadelphia Flyers looked listless for long stretches on Thursday night, and they were heavily outshot by the New York Islanders. But Ivan Provorov’s goal in double overtime lifted the Flyers to a 5-4 win in Game 6 and forced a seventh game in a series they once trailed 3-1. It was their third overtime victory of the series.
Philadelphia, without star center Sean Couturier, was fortunate to survive regulation. The Islanders outshot them 53-31 on the night. Head coach Alain Vigneault cost his team when he inexplicably decided to challenge Matt Martin’s game-tying, second-period goal for goaltender interference when replays showed that Flyers defenseman Justin Braun dumped Casey Cizikas into Flyers goaltender Carter Hart. Vigneault’s failed challenge, which has become something of a habit in these playoffs, handed the Islanders a power play on which Anders Lee put them ahead 3-2.
Michael Raffl got that one back later in the period, only for Mathew Barzal to put New York back on top with 30 seconds left in the frame. It was the second goal allowed by the Flyers in the last minute of a period in this series. Those late goals can be a dagger. Travis Sanheim’s brutal giveaway put the puck right on Barzal’s stick, and it might not have been costly had it been anyone but the skilled young pivot. Barzal dipsy-doodled to get to his forehand and sniped it top shelf through Sanheim’s legs.
Provorov Winner Rescues Flyers
Philadelphia was outshot in all three periods and the first overtime, most notably in the third when they were outshot 14-4, but the Flyers emerged with the only goal of the period. Scott Laughton got a breakaway and went backhand to forehand on Semyon Varlamov, who bit hard on the fake. Still, the Islanders got plenty of chances to win the series after that, including a power play late in the third. They dominated the first overtime period. Hart made a heart-stopping pad save on Lee without his stick, and a couple of Islanders shots deflected an inch wide of the left post.
The Flyers seemed to get their second wind in double overtime, though, outshooting New York 8-2. Isles defender Scott Mayfield broke his stick at the offensive blue line and Kevin Hayes took the resulting turnover into the Islanders’ zone. Provorov, who played 38 minutes on the night, took the drop pass and ripped it off Mayfield into the net for the biggest goal of his career.
By winning the last two games, the Flyers ensured Lindblom, who got stick taps from both teams at the start of the game, will take the ice again. He might even get a chance to play the hero in Game 7. He’s already a hero to many after fighting and beating Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
Don’t overlook what Lindblom means to the Flyers on the ice, either. He played nearly 18 minutes in Game 6, and he contributes at both ends of the ice. He had 11 goals in 30 games last fall before his diagnosis. The 24-year-old left-winger adds to the Flyers’ impressive forward depth. He played on the third line in his return with Derek Grant and Tyler Pitlick.
Flyers Must Fix Flaws in Game 7
Make no mistake, the Flyers are fortunate to make it to this do-or-die contest on Saturday. We have yet to see the smooth, 60-minute effort expected of the 2020 Playoffs’ top seed. They haven’t had all their strengths going on the same night since the round-robin.
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Most concerning has been Philadelphia’s tendency to get worse as the game goes on. They’ve had a lot of good starts, which is crucial, but more often than not they haven’t been able to sustain that early momentum. In 12 games against the Montreal Canadiens and Islanders, the Flyers have scored 11 goals in the first period, nine in the second and only four in the third. They’ve scored the first goal seven times, but the Islanders have outscored them 10-4 in the third period.
In fact, the Flyers have blown multiple-goal leads three times in this series, and recovered to win all three in overtime, including a 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 6. It’s been a pretty bizarre series in that sense. Philadelphia can’t afford that kind of letdown in Game 7.
Let’s give the Islanders their due, though. I don’t think it’s controversial to say they’ve been the better team through six games. As we noted before the series began, they have an excellent balance of veteran leadership and youthful skill, with liberal amounts of grit, stifling defense and punishing physical play. They are a team built for the playoffs with a defensive coach in Barry Trotz who was born for the playoffs. They were almost flawless in the first four games, but haven’t been able to get timely scoring in overtime, and the Flyers have scrambled back onto the cliff by their fingertips.
Couturier’s status for Game 7 will loom large. He went knee-on-knee with Barzal in Game 5, and since COVID-19 has given teams an ironclad excuse not to divulge any injury information, we don’t know how bad it is. But the Flyers will need their big guns on offense to step up, regardless. Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk both scored their first goals of the playoffs in Game 5. JVR followed with another one in Game 6, and the Flyers would love it if this is the start of a heater for the streaky power forward, who has been a healthy scratch often this summer.
Of course, Hart’s performance in Game 7 is the X-factor. The 22-year-old has had moments of pure brilliance in the postseason, but at other times he’s been shaky, allowing questionable goals. Will he rise to the occasion for the most important game of his career?
Buckle up, Flyers fans. No matter what happens Saturday night, you’re going to need a defibrillator.