Isles ‘need a little bit more’ to oust Flyers
Seek first conference finals berth in 27 years Thursday
The New York Islanders came tantalizingly close to packing their bags for the Eastern Conference finals in Edmonton, Alberta on Tuesday night in Toronto.
Fortunately, they still have two more shots to advance that far for the first time in 27 years, including Thursday night’s Game 6 vs. the Philadelphia Flyers in their ongoing best-of-seven series within the fanless confines of the NHL’s bubble site at Scotiabank Arena.
“We need a little bit more,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz ceded following Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the desperate Flyers in Game 5.
“We had some early chances in overtime, some Grade As that if we score on them we’re not having this conversation.”
Brock Nelson appeared to have the best of those opportunities during the extra session when he broke in alone on Philadelphia netminder Carter Hart, who kicked the puck aside to help the Flyers stave off elimination.
New York, which had rallied from a 3-1 deficit by scoring twice in the final 4:14 of regulation, saw its hopes for a quick series dashed when Scott Laughton beat Semyon Varlamov at 12:20 of overtime.
“That turns out to be the difference,” lamented Nelson, who started the Isles’ third-period comeback with his sixth goal of the postseason on a one-timer past Hart at 15:46 of the third.
“I’d like to have the breakaway back, [Devon] Toews thought his [shot] squeaked through and [we] had a couple of other looks. That’s hockey.”
Derick Brassard’s first goal of the playoffs forged a 3-3 tie with 2:41 left in the third and Josh Bailey also scored for the Isles, who came out slow but showed the grit that has carried them this far over the final two-plus periods.
“We didn’t come out with a great first,” Nelson said. “We started to get it going as the game went on, but after the last game [it was] not good enough when you’re trying to clinch a series. We have to find a way to be better coming out of the gates. Come out on the attack and try and get a lead.”
That’s what they’ll try to do on Thursday when they take their second stab at reaching the conference finals for the first time since 1993.
But the top-seeded Flyers still have plenty to say about who will face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the East championship, which will be held in Alberta’s capital, along with the Stanley Cup Finals.
“The big boy pants is something they’re aware of,” Alain Vigneault said of his squad, which answered Bailey’s second-period goal with successive tallies from team captain Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and Matt Niskanen before the Isles’ late charge forced OT.
“They don’t need me to motivate them,” added Vigneault. “They’re a group the motivates themselves. They’ve got a lot pride and a lot of compete.”
As do the Isles, who have yet to lose consecutive games during this postseason, which began with a four-game ousting of the Florida Panthers in the qualifer round before a five-game dismantling of the Washington Capitals in the East quarterfinals.
“Our first period, they had a lot more desperation coming out of the gates than we did,” Trotz admitted.
“I thought we stabilized the game. In the second we were coming pretty good. We got the power-play goal. We made a couple of questionable decisions and they capitalized on their chances. In the third period, I thought we were coming. Obviously, we got it tied up.”
Varlamov finished with 28 saves after watching from the bench as veteran backup Thomas Greiss won Game 4. Trotz has not yet revealed which goaltender will start Game 6.
All-Star center Mathew Barzal assisted on Bailey’s goal, but left the game for good in the third period after taking a stick to the face from Giroux.
“I don’t have an update [on Barzal],” Trotz said. “We’ll see where that is tomorrow.”
The Isles will also have to see if they have that “little bit more” they’ll need to send the Flyers packing.
“We came back in the game, we showed some character and it could have gone either way,” Brassard said.
“It wasn’t our night and we’ll focus on what we need to do in the next couple of days.”
Game 7, if necessary, is scheduled for Saturday.
Isle Have Another: Bailey leads the Isles with 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 14 games during this postseason, making him the first New York player since Ray Ferraro in 1993 to average at least a point per game during the playoffs. … Greiss made 36 saves in Sunday’s 3-2 Game 4 win. … The Isles are 1-2 in overtime during this postseason, with both losses coming in this series to the Flyers.
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