Josh Lewis The Hockey Writers
Flyers Step Up in Character Win Over Islanders
When the horn sounded at the end of the first period, it seemed the Philadelphia Flyers would cruise to victory, as they had already chased Semyon Varlamov from the New York Islanders’ net. Instead, they blew a 3-0 lead, then rebounded to win in overtime and tie their second-round playoff series at one apiece. Philippe Myers was the overtime hero in a 4-3 win, scoring what was undoubtedly the biggest goal of his career.
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The Flyers got three goals in the first 15 minutes of the game as their top six finally stepped up on the scoresheet. Kevin Hayes gave his team some early momentum two minutes in off a feed from Travis Konecny, ripping a wrist shot top corner over Varlamov’s blocker, off the iron and in.
Hayes netted his second just shy of the halfway mark on an impressive individual effort where he made defenders Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech look foolish, then squeezed it short side past Varlamov.
Sean Couturier then got a large primate off his back at the 15-minute mark, scoring his first goal of the postseason. It was eerily similar to Hayes’ second marker, except that Couturier entered the zone on the right side. Couturier froze Nick Leddy, then wrapped the puck around Varlamov.
The Islanders’ starter entered Game 2 with a shutout streak of 136:20, going back to Game 4 against Washington. He broke Billy Smith’s franchise record early in the game, but then the wheels came off and he allowed three goals on nine shots. All three were to the blocker side. Hayes’ second was definitely stoppable. Varlamov got the hook after Couturier made it 3-0.
Greiss a Game-Changer in Goal
The goalie change seemed to impact the Islanders, and Thomas Greiss wasn’t very busy the rest of the night, facing only 19 shots in regulation. Captain Anders Lee got one back in the second period, deftly redirecting a pass from Mathew Barzal past Flyers starter Carter Hart.
With 8:49 remaining in the third, Anthony Beauvillier got New York within one, finishing off a 3-on-2 passing play with Josh Bailey for his team-leading seventh of the playoffs.
The Islanders dominated the third period like they have all postseason, and they were rewarded with 2:09 left when Ivan Provorov’s clearing attempt stayed in. The puck found Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the slot and he fired a wrister just barely over Hart’s glove-hand shoulder to force overtime. Not only that, but Alain Vigneault challenged for off-side and lost, giving the Flyers a penalty to kill off just to reach OT.
At this point, you could be forgiven for fully expecting the Islanders to win it in OT. After all, they had all the momentum at the end of the third. But the Flyers generated some pressure in New York’s zone. True, Couturier did shoot the puck laughably high over the net on a golden opportunity, but Myers bailed him out at the 2:41 mark with a blistering point shot that hit Lee’s stick and skittered past Greiss. He was the first Flyers defenseman to score a playoff overtime winner since Andy Delmore in 2000.
Confidence-Building Win for Flyers
It goes without saying this was a crucial victory for Philadelphia. You don’t want to fall behind 2-0, especially against a team as gritty and disciplined as the Islanders. This will continue to be a hard-fought series and it would have been very difficult to win four of the next five. Now the Flyers head into Game 3 with more confidence in their top guns – Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek were reunited Wednesday and it paid off.
The Flyers also reminded themselves they can persevere through adversity. They hadn’t faced much of that so far. They did respond with wins after both their losses to the Montreal Canadiens, but they weren’t trailing in the series – there wasn’t as much on the line as there was against New York in Game 2.
Philly’s stars still have more to give, though, particularly Giroux. He’s not been playing poorly, per se, but it’s time to send out a search party for his missing offensive contributions. He still hasn’t scored a goal through 10 postseason games. The Flyers’ captain is more of a playmaker, but they need him to bury a puck or two.
Hart also rebounded nicely from a rough outing in Game 1. He probably should have had Beauvillier’s shot, but on the whole he played well and was full value for the win. The Flyers need more consistency out of him, though. So far he’s been averaging a stinker every third game or so.
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The two teams go right back at it Thursday night, and the Flyers will look to take control of the series on the back-to-back. It’s worth wondering whether either team will consider a change in goal to keep their starters fresh. It would be surprising to see Philly do that, but the Isles have two good options. Still, Varlamov played less than a period, so he should be good to go.
The Flyers enter Game 3 with a little more knowledge of what they’re made of. Now it’s time to play their best hockey and show the kind of form that earned them the top seed.
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