The Flyers were playing without their best all-around player, Sean Couturier, and at one point Thursday in this more-fascinating-by-the-minute series against the New York Islanders, they were getting outshot by a mind-boggling 50-20.
Somehow, they survived, outlasting the Islanders in double overtime, 5-4, to force a Game 7 Saturday night in Toronto.
If he had been told before this Eastern Conference semifinal that it would come down to one game, winner take all, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said, “I would have taken it.”
And, so, here we are. The Flyers, who have won three overtime games in the same playoff series for the first time in franchise history, will try to come all the way back after falling into a 3-1 series hole.
“It permits us to have a chance, and that’s what we wanted,” Vigneault said.
That chance will be greatly improved if Couturier, who appeared to suffer a knee injury in Game 5, can return to the lineup, but Vigneault was mum on his availability.
That chance would also be greatly improved if the Flyers’ power play – which is 4-for-50 in the postseason and 0-for-11 in this series – can finally connect.
The Flyers overcame those obstacles – and a bad coach’s challenge by Vigneault that led to an Islanders power-play goal -- in Game 6 because goalie Carter Hart was brilliant, because they were the definition of opportunistic, and because Oskar Lindblom provided inspiration and some solid play in 17:30 of action. It was Lindblom’s first game in nearly nine months following a battle with a rare bone cancer.
They won because Ivan Provorov scored the first playoff overtime goal of his career after a clever setup by Kevin Hayes (goal, assist), and because Scott Laughton (game-tying goal in the third, nine hits) and Michael Raffl (goal, five hits, plus-3) raised their level of play in the third-longest game in franchise history.
Now they want to finish off the Islanders and not make the Game 6 win the highlight of their long, remarkable season.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Vigneault said in a Zoom call with reporters Friday. “There’s obviously a lot of pressure. It should be an enjoyable moment for players and coaches. You get yourself ready and you lay out on the line what you have.”
“There’s nothing better than a Game 7,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said.
“This is kind of what you want as a player,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said, echoing sentiments shared by the Flyers. “You’ve got to win a game. Refocus, reset. Whatever’s happened in the past is done. It’s about one game and getting ready for that.”
It has been a physical, hard-fought series, one that included an eye-opening 137 hits -- 73 for New York, 64 for the Flyers -- in Game 6.
“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey, both teams. Physical hockey,” Vigneault said. “I sort of feel like we’re the toy growing up that you keep punching in the face and it keeps getting back up. We’ve been whacked. We were down 3-1 and we’re still there. Gave ourselves a chance.”
Vigneault praised the Isles and called them a “playoff-built team.”
The Flyers survived Thursday despite allowing 53 shots and allowing too many quality chances.
“I think we just need to tighten up defensively and go from there,” said center Kevin Hayes, who leads the Flyers with 13 points and a plus-8 rating in the postseason. “It’s a little cliche but the best offense is a good defense. I think with our team, that’s true.”
Some might say that the best defense is a good offense, but Hayes’ point was that the Flyers generate attack time off their defensive play.
The Islanders have had the territorial edge for most of the series, but their coach respects the Flyers’ resolve. Trotz said the Flyers were a “very good hockey team. They’re a No. 1 seed. There’s a reason they’re around. We got on them early and they’ve beaten us three times and they’ve been in overtime.
“There’s two evenly matched teams, so if you really look at the big picture, it’s probably fitting that there is a Game 7.
For those who like omens, Vigneault’s New York Rangers faced a 3-1 series deficit against Trotz’s Washington Capitals and won the final three games – two in overtime – to steal that low-scoring 2015 conference semifinal.
“Probably a lot of similarities,” Trotz said of the two series. “There were games we played very, very well and didn’t get a victory” in 2015.
Trotz is undecided on his goalie for Game 7. Semyon Varlamov has been terrific in the postseason (2.00 GAA, .921 save percentage) but was shaky Thursday. Trotz could turn to Thomas Greiss, who made 36 saves in his first playoff start in four years in Game 4, a 3-2 Islanders win.
“Both of them are really good options for me,” Trotz said.
Hart (2.17, .929 in the postseason), whose 49 saves Thursday were the fifth-most in the franchise’s playoff history, will get the call for the Flyers.
“Carter’s a young man that’s growing with every experience he’s being given,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault doesn’t know if there will be lineup changes Saturday – or at least he wasn’t tipping his hand. Couturier and Joel Farabee missed Game 6 with injuries. Both will get treatment and be reevaluated, Vigneault said.
“Like all teams at this time of the year, we have some issues,” he said.
The players who are healthy are excited to have a chance to become the second Flyers team in 19 chances to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and win the round.
“It’s going to be a lot fun,” Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg said. “Game 7 is kind of what you dream of when you’re a kid, playing on the street.”