FFR2 Round 2, Game 6 - PHI 5, NYI 4 (2OT): Bigger, Better, Oskar Strong(er)
Updated: Jan 21
As a wise, mic'd up former ref once said,
Yes, that man was Kevin Hayes, member of the same Philadelphia Flyers team that celebrated a WIN, 5-4, in not one, but TWO overtimes against the New York Islanders. For the first time since 2014, when they were playing also New York team but going against Alain Vigneault, the Philadelphia Flyers are heading to a Game 7.
Wow. Wow! Just wow.
Game 6 was such a dichotomy. On one hand, the Flyers didn't have their Selke finalist and elite first-line center Sean Couturier or budding rookie Joel Farabee, who was had some huge goals already in these playoffs. The Islanders' first-line center Mat Barzal was back, meaning the Islanders were still at full strength. At one point, the Flyers were being outshot 50-20. The Islanders won the shot attempts battle in every single period. Philly's power play was awful, nearly giving up a shortie on their first PP of overtime and took a penalty to prevent a breakaway on their second.
On the other hand, Oskar Lindblom is BACK! 265 days after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The importance of Lindblom returning to the lineup cannot be overstated. First, Oskar is a great player who was in the middle of a breakout year when he was diagnosed - his eleven goals were tied for the team lead. His return also must have been incredibly motivational for his teammates, who have been with him the whole way and may even be happier than us fans to have him back.
When Oskar hopped over the boards for a face-off, both teams went wild with stick taps. Even in a brutal, intense series, some moments are bigger than hockey.
The energy from that moment (it was actually Lindblom's third shift) may have not just come from his emotional return, but because Feel the Shake was playing in the background during that GIF. Just moments earlier, the Islanders tried to make a change after barely chipping the puck to center, rather than getting it deep. The Flyers took advantage, with Robert Hagg entering the zone with control (not a typo, I'm as shocked as you are). He dropped the puck to Kevin Hayes, who executed a beautiful give-and-go with TK. Konecny might not have a goal yet in the playoffs, but his playmaking has been on point. Here he sprung Hayes right to the slot, and Kevin did the rest, beating Varlamov with a Hollywood finish for the inaugural goal of Game 6.
Less than two minutes after the Hayes goal, the Islanders made another rare mistake. Adam Pelech crossed the Flyers line and immediately decided his best move was attempting to skate through three Flyers defenders in the middle of the ice. Believe it or not, that didn't work. Then the puck tipped to Jake Voracek at the blue-line; he looked up and saw an orange flash streaking up the left wing uncovered. Jake's pass was money, and it looked like a drive to the net was inevitable. Instead, we were treated to a James van Riflesdyk, circa 1985 - that's right, a slapshot off the rush, to beat Varlamov glove side. JVRn't you glad he's got his swagger back, and the Flyers have another two goal lead.
Shoot. They've got us right where they want us.
The Flyers nearly survived the first period with their two goal lead still in tact, but a frustration slashing penalty by NAK (who had clearly been interfered with seconds later, but alas) sent the Islanders to the man advantage. New York had their moments on the power play, but actually did their damage just after Aube-Kubel returned to ice. Brock Nelson made an amazing below the goal-line, baiting Ivan Provorov to the boards before throwing the puck to the high slot. Devon Toews looked like he would shoot, but actually put the pick right into the radius of Game 5 hero Derick Brassard. The shot-pass snapped Brassard's stick, but also snapped Carter Hart's shutout bid for a momentum swinging redirect goal.
The Flyers managed to maintain their lead through the end of the period, but things didn't go well to start the second. Justin Braun pinched at the right point and actually got to the puck, but instead of safely rimming it around the near boards, threw a shot on the net that was blocked. The puck couldn't have bounced to a worse area, as Matt Martin picked it up and the best fourth line in hockey had a 3-on-2. He stretched the puck to Cal Clutterbuck on the right wing, and he returned it to the trailer Martin right in the dead slot. For the second time in the series, Martin snuck an equalizing goal through Hart. Tie game. Ouch.
Right after the puck went in, I wondered if maybe there was a way the goal would be called back. Hart was definitely bumped by Casey Cizikas right as the puck crossed the line. However, the reason Cizikas went skidding into the crease in the first place is because Justin Braun's stick tripped him up. I don't think Braun was trying to trip him, but there was no doubt that's what caused the fall, which caused the contact, which caused the goal. AV has already lost two challenges in this series - there's no way he reviews this, knowing a failed challenge means a golden opportunity for the Islanders to take the lead.
"Philadelphia is challenging the play for goaltender interference."
Sure enough, the call stood, and the Flyers struggling penalty kill (just 79.2% in the playoffs, a decent drop-off from their 81.8% rate in the regular season) was forced into a tough situation with all the momentum going against them. It seemed like the Islanders were destined to take the lead.
And that's exactly what seemed to happen. Though the Flyers came very close to bailing out their coach, the Islanders power play did what the Flyers' hasn't been able to: just find a way. With under 20 seconds left in the period, Mat Barzal took a pass on the right wing. Apparently, in addition to being an amazing hockey player, Mat Barzal is also an A+ geometry student, because he angled the puck just perfectly off Carter Hart's pads so that it caromed to a wide open Anders Lee. The puck went in and out so quick it almost seemed like maybe the Flyers had dodged the bullet. But Lee's shot clearly went dead center past the sprawling Hart. Incredibly, the 10th worst scoring team in the regular season put up three unanswered again on the Flyers' 7th best defense, giving them their first lead of Game 6.
Just like in Game 5, the fear that the Islanders suffocating defense would immediately take over rose to the forefront. But the Flyers didn't buckle. Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who served the penalty for the failed challenge, had to be desperate for redemption. NAK fielded a pass at the left boars and wheeled all the way to the high slot. It was a risky play; Brock Nelson was draped on his back the whole way, one poke check from potentially being off to the races. But Aube-Kubel beat him to the inside, flipped a shot off the chest of Varlamov that hopped right onto the stick of a Flyers left winger returning from injury... Michael Raffl.
I'm sorry, that was mean. It would've been sick to see Oskar light the lamp, but I'll take a tally from the Austrian Rocket any day! If Raffl is still hurt, he didn't look it in Game 6, maintaining his point-per-game playoff pace in his eighth game. Suddenly, my anxiety dropped off, and it felt like the Flyers' did too. For once, they actually looked relaxed.
Maybe too relaxed. Facing the only thing scarier than a multi-goal lead, the last minute of a period, Travis Sanheim got caught. Hart left the puck for Sanheim behind the net, who tried to skate the puck out on his backhand. That went about as well as you'd expect. Derick Brassard picked his pocket, freeing the puck up for Mat Barzal. Ok, maybe Derick Brassard on the ice without his usual linemates is the scariest thing in this series. Barzal quickly turned from backhand to forehand, took a stride to the left circle, and... SHEESH.
That may be one of the slickest plays I've ever seen. Barzal quickly loads the gun and if you thought JVR's goal was a rifle, take a look at this. Barzal just goes roof daddy, beating Hart short-side to restore the Islanders one-goal lead. Once again, the doggedness and resiliency of the New York Islanders shows up at the right time (or for us, the wrong time) to put the Islanders twenty minutes away from closing out the seres.
Of course, the Flyers are a pretty resilient team themselves, with a pretty resilient player amongst them. Alain Vigneault no doubt gave the boys the pep talk of a lifetime. Coming off a nightmare second period where the Flyers were beaten from a play-driving standpoint, the Flyers knew they had to come out swinging. So naturally, they didn't record a shot for the first eight minutes of the period, at which point Kevin Hayes took a slashing penalty.
This is it, huh? The beginning of the end. A goal here for the Islanders would just about do it. Even if the Flyers managed to kill it off, they would have just over half a period desperately looking for just a shot, let alone a goal. It seemed like darkness was surrounding the Flyers playoff chances from all angles, ready to squeeze them out for good.
But then, a glimmer of light broke through a crack the size of Devon Toews' stick blade. With just five seconds left on the power play, Toews fumbled the puck right at the blue-line, the same mistake Aube-Kubel avoided right before the Raffl goal. Claude Giroux's momentum took him to the puck. The captain may have just one goal in the playoffs, but being a captain is so much more than individual success - you've got to put your teammates in the best position for your group to succeed. With the hands of a surgeon, Giroux sauced the puck into the perfect area for Scott Laughton to catch it in full stride. The Flyers still didn't have a shot on goal in the third period at this point.
They made their first one count.
SCOTT LAUGHTON YOU ABSOLUTE HERO! Where have I heard this before? Scotty Laughts absolutely undressed Varlamov with a gorgeous backhand-forehand move, capped off with a perfect top shelf finish. From former first round pick, to reworking his game in the AHL, to elite bottom-sixer, to playoff healthy scratch, to season saver, what a career it's already been for 26-year old Scott Laughton. No one on the Flyers has more goals in the playoffs than Laughts (five), and at this point, no one had a bigger goal for the Flyers all season than him either.
Surprisingly, the rest of regulation was pretty quiet, with both teams seeming content to play past sixty minutes for the third time in this series. The Flyers were probably banking on their Game 2 and 5 heroics; the Islanders were probably banking on their 41-17 edge in shots on goal after sixty eventually turning from dominance to a dagger. The latter definitely won the day at first. The Islanders dominated the first overtime period with a strong 60% Corsi jaw-dropping 87.03% Expected Goals For at 5-on-5. Their only mistake was taking two penalties, but the Flyers dreadful power play came much closer to allowing the first series clinching overtime goal since 2006.
It's impossible to understate how good the Islanders looked in the first extra twenty minutes. Mat Barzal had the best chance, tipping a Jordan Eberle feed off the rush for an incredible chance. Pageau had the aforementioned 2-on-1 shorthanded chance, and then Josh Bailey nearly banked the rebound in AND set up Pageau at the goal mouth on the same toss. Anders Lee looked like he had a wide open net. It was all Islanders.
Except it was also all Carter Hart. The Flyers 22-year old playoff rookie looked like a seasoned veteran. With his team's season literally resting on his shoulders, Hart played the period of his life. He stopped Barzal with great positioning. He got his mask on Pageau's first chance, and his pad eluded the follow-up bank try. He lunged to his left to rob Lee with the tip of his glove. After Barzal's buzzer-beating goal in the second, Hart faced twenty-five more shots, one more than he faced in his entire first NHL shutout back in October. No matter what it took, Carter Hart just kept finding a way. For the first time in over a decade, the Flyers headed to double overtime.
Something funny happened during the fifth period of play. Back when I previewed this series, I said that this matchup would come down to whether or not the Flyers could find it in them to flip the switch after an uninspiring performance against Montreal. In the first four periods, it felt like the Islanders bashed the switch off the wall to the point where it would never work again. But at some point during the fourth intermission, the Flyers picked it up and jammed it back into its spot.
The result was an outstanding double OT performance by the Flyers, who outshot the Islanders 8-2 and had by far their largest share of the 5-on-5 expected goals (66.46%). It actually started by killing off a 42-second New York power play, as Travis Sanheim took a hooking penalty to cancel out a Philly PP after falling down to avoid a Casey Cizikas breakaway. The Flyers nearly ended the game early in double OT, with a Hayes wraparound and resulting net mouth scramble coming *this* close to ending the game.
The Flyers could've gotten frustrated by not getting that extra centimeter and tried to force something, which we've learned firsthand just doesn't work against the Islanders. Philadelphia just kept playing their game, exhibiting the patience it takes to eventually break down Barry Trotz's outstanding system. But with less than six minutes to play in double overtime, the Flyers still needed a breakthrough.
Remember the Hayes clip from the intro? This is where it comes into play. Scott Mayfield went to make a simple pass from the right point, the kind of pass players make a million times and never think twice about. But this time, something went wrong. Mayfield's stick snapped, and Kevin Hayes jumped on the puck, smelling blood in the water. Mayfield tried to grab a stick from the bench while back-skating to his own zone, but Hayes stayed far enough to the middle to keep Mayfield honest and out of arm's reach from the Isles bench. Once he gained the line, Hayes went on attack mode, charging right around Mayfield and passing the puck right through the lane that Mayfield's stick would've locked down.
The pass was likely intended for Michael Raffl at the net-mouth, but instead it leaked out towards the point. Fortunately, Ivan Provorov was creeping towards the middle and picked the puck up. With the Islanders defense collapsed around Varlamov in an effort to support Mayfield, Provorov practically could've bought a timeshare in the high slot. Instead, he drifted for a split second, just long enough to change his release point. Two nights after Laughton tipped in his shot for an overtime winner of his own, Provorov once again pulled the trigger. With Raffl setting a screen yet having his stick tied up, no deflection was coming this time. "What do you say to that?" the Islanders defense internally taunted.
"'Fine, I'll do it myself' - Thanos" - Ivan Provorov
THAT RUSSIAN MACHINE NEVER BREAKS! Ivan Provorov with the snipe and his traditional "down on one need over the back arm pump" celly times infinity!!!! For the third time in this series, the Flyers blow a two-goal lead only to prevail in overtime. For the second straight game, they come within inches of seeing their season come to an end, only to prevail in dramatic fashion. And this W means that for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia Flyers are going to be playing in a Game 7. Well, at least I think they are.
What a wild series this has been. The Islanders have been the better team for the majority of it, but the Flyers have been incredibly opportunistic where they're not shooting themselves in the foot every third shift. The goaltending has been sensational for the most part. And after the Flyers went 31 straight playoff games without needing overtime, they've gone to extra hockey three times in five games, and most importantly, they've won all three.
But after all of that, all the goals, hits, injuries, and saves, it all comes down to Game 7. One game, both teams' season on the line. One team will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for a date with the powerful Lightning. The other will be booted from the bubble and left to wonder what could've been. Both teams have great futures and it wouldn't be a shock to see them right back on this stage next year. For everybody on the ice, behind the bench, and i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶n̶d̶s̶ watching from their social distant couches, all that matters is Game 7.
If the Islanders play like they did on Thursday in Game 7, you have to like their chances. Heck, if the Islanders play like they have all series, you have to like their chances. But the Flyers have motivation and momentum on their side, two factors that matter almost more than anything in the playoffs. Carter Hart has been absolutely unreal all playoffs and has been in plenty of big moments in his young career already, but Semyon Varlamov has been just as good if not better for parts of the series. The way this series has gone, the Flyers may to do even more than just flip the switch to take Game 7.
My first memory as a true Flyers fan was Game 7 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. I remember the sadness when the final face-off at center ice with three seconds left went the Rangers' way, sealing a 2-1 defeat to Henrik Lundqvist and company in a game where the Flyers were thoroughly outplayed, yet came just a bounce away from sending to overtime. The fun yet scary part of Game 7, especially in the über unpredictable NHL, is that you really never know what's going to happen. Game 7 really could go either way.
It's been a great series. It should be a great finish. The Flyers need to play smart, but they also need to play to win. One game separates them from their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in a decade. One game separates them from the end of their season. If anyone should know how hard it is to win the fourth game of a playoff series, it should be the team that's prevented their opposition from doing it twice in a row. Can the Flyers sustain their magic? Who knows. Can they win Game 7? Absolutely. Will they?
Answering that question's why you watch. Game 7. Flyers. Isles. It doesn't get much better than this. It's the biggest game of the season - until the next game. The Flyers goal? Make sure they have one.
Even though Oskar has won his battle against cancer and returned to the lineup, I think I'm still keeping this section called Lindies (it was called Game Notes until December). It sounds kinda cool and gives it a nice Flyers tie-in, imo.
All of the Flyers coaching staff had pink cancer ribbon pins on in support of Oskar. Also, look at this beautiful celly from AV. Dave Hakstol could never.
Ok, I confess, Provorov's shot may have tipped off Mayfield, who was battling in front with Raffl (it also might have just gone off Varlamov and in). But I needed a way to grammatically set up the Thanos line, and that was the easiest way to do it.
Carter Hart's 49 saves were a career high, which isn't surprising since this is easily the longest game he's ever played. His previous career-high was 41 (February 4, 2019 vs. Vancouver and March 17, 2019 at Pittsburgh).
This is the first time in Flyers franchise history that they have won three overtime games in the same series. The last time the Flyers won two overtime games in the same series was the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Capitals.
Speaking of that series, Thursday night was the first double overtime Flyers playoff game since April 17, 2008, a 4-3 win in Game 4 of that same Capitals series. Mike Knuble scored the winner at 6:40 of double overtime.
The Flyers actually have some history when it comes to overtime Game 6s in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in Toronto. Way back in 2004, Jeremy Roenick scored at 7:39 of OT to send the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Maple Leafs haven't been back to the second round since.
This is the first time that at least three Conference Semifinals series are going to a Game 7 since 2014. One round after beating the Flyers in a Game 7, Alain Vigneault's Rangers were one of the teams to prevail, finishing off a 3-1 series comeback with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then again, the #1 seed in the East (Boston) did fall that night, losing 3-1 to Montreal.
Here's a fun one - thanks to the Phillies 10th inning 6-5 win over the Nationals, September 3, 2020 is the first day that two Philly teams have won after regulation on the same day since April 12, 2014. On that day, the Phillies beat the Marlins 5-4 in 10 innings on a Jimmy Rollins walk-off homer, and the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-3 in overtime on a goal by Mark Streit (George Stockburger/ @18NewsStock).
The Flyers are just the 8th team in NHL history to win consecutive elimination games in overtime (John Clark). The last to pull it off was the 2019 San Jose Sharks, who won Game 6 in double overtime and Game 7 in overtime over the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Only one other team has won Games 5 and 6 in overtime while facing elimination - the 1994 Vancouver Canucks, in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Calgary Flames. The Canucks completed the comeback by winning Game 7, you guessed it, in (double) overtime (John Clark).
Claude Giroux now has 19 points in 19 elimination games in his playoff career, tying Ken Linesman (19 points in just 10 games) and Paul Holmgren (19 points in 13 games) for second most in Flyers history. Only Brian Propp (24 points in 21 games) has more.
Sean Couturier may not have played in this game, but he was in the stands at Scotiabank Arena watching without any brace or anything noticeable regarding his injury. His status for Game 7 is still unknown. Remember, after tearing his ACL on April 17, 2018, Couturier missed Game 4 on the 18th but returned for Game 5 on the 20th.
Joel Farabee also missed Game 6 with an injury. Farabee took a nasty hit to the head from Adam Pelech in Game 5. Although Farabee was a bit hunched over during the collision, it's on the hitter to avoid head contact, and I thought Pelech should've received a minor for illegal hit to head or/and been fined. But nothing happened. If he does have a concussion (which is probably the most likely outcome), there's no way he can play in Game 7.
Game 7 will start a little bit later than you might expect because the Kentucky Derby is also on Saturday. The Flyers hold a 4-2 all-time record on Derby Day, including a 5-1 Game 7 win in Round 2 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders (Bob Vetrone Jr./@BoopStats).
No one on either side has more points in Game 7s (min. two played) than James van Riemsdyk's four - two goals, two assists. In fact, his first career playoff goal was scored in Game 7 when the Flyers overcame the 3-0 deficit(s) in 2010 against Boston, the first of four unanswered Flyers goals in that incredible comeback.
Perhaps the craziest thing about this upcoming Game 7? The last time the Flyers played in a Game 7 (2014), they lost 2-1 on the road in Round 1 to the New York Rangers, who were coached by Alain Vigneault. The last the Islanders played in a Game 7 (2015), they lost 2-1 on the road in Round 1 to the Washington Capitals, who were coached by Barry Trotz.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - .924 SV% (49/53), 4 GA on 5.12 xGA
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - Overtime-Winning Goal (3), Assist (5)
3rd - Mat Barzal (NYI) - Goal (5), Assist (8), 73.68% Corsi, 84.45% xGF
Game 7 - 9/5, 7:30 PM: It has to be the end for someone, but it doesn't have to be for us.
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstattrick.com