NEW YORK — The Flyers had a point in their grip for roughly 50 seconds.
In the final minute of regulation, the Flyers surrendered the game-winning goal to New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock in a 5-3 loss Tuesday at the Barclays Center. Pulock’s goal came less than a minute after Sean Couturier tied things up at 3 after the puck deflected off the boards directly toward his stick with 1:32 left in the third period.
“Heck of an effort battling back, we had a pretty awful first and a pretty darn good second two periods," Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
New York’s fifth goal came on an empty-netter from Islanders winger Leo Komarov. The decisive goal came from a rocketed slap shot from Pulock, which found the top cornet of the net, beating Brian Elliott stick-side.
“We either need a save or a blocked shot,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “One or the other. I talked about the importance [on Monday] of blocked shots during the game. We had an opportunity to get one there, we didn’t and we lost at least a big point.”
The Flyers (31-19-7) entered the night just one point behind the Isles in the crowded Metropolitan Division standings, but they lost the chance to gain ground in the playoff race partly thanks to a lackadaisical start to the second game of a back-to-back.
“It’s unfortunate we at least lose a point and come out of here with no points,” Couturier said. “We’ve got to quickly forget this one and move on. This time of the year, you can’t really sit back and regret on these games.”
The Islanders jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. After getting blitzed early, the Flyers responded with two goals in less than three minutes during the second. Flyers winger Travis Konecny got them on the board with a wrist shot set up by winger James van Riemsdyk, and Robert Hagg beat Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov 2:20 later to get back within one goal.
“In the second and third, we played our game,” Hagg said. “In the first period, we were on our heels and gave up too many chances. Sure, they only had nine shots [on goal] after the first, but it was nine good shots, quality chances. The start has to be better.”
The Islanders tested Elliott early and often, getting several quality looks on net in the first period. They cashed in for the three-goal lead heading into the first intermission. The opening score came on Isles forward Josh Bailey’s one-timer set up by center Mathew Barzal. The second came after Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers got caught out of position, leading to a two-on-one transition score by Isles fourth-line winger Matt Martin.
The Flyers haven’t managed to beat the Islanders this season, going 0-2-1 in the season series with one game left to play on March 24 at the Wells Fargo Center. Each of the three games has come with the Flyers on the second of back-to-back games.
“We knew it was a big game for us,” Hagg said. “They were only one point ahead of us before this game. It’s always a tough game against the Islanders.”