UNIONDALE, N.Y. - It was a road game on the schedule, but the Nassau Coliseum stands were filled with so many loud fans wearing orange or black Flyers jerseys last night that, at times, it seemed as if the arena was in South Philadelphia.
The Flyers, outplayed in the first two periods, rewarded them for making the 21/2-hour trip, outlasting the lowly-but-pesky New York Islanders in a shoot-out, 4-3, to maintain their slim lead for the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed.
Mike Richards scored the game-winner in the shoot-out as the Flyers remained one point ahead of Carolina and two ahead of Pittsburgh in the crowded East race.
"We were not very good for whatever reason," said coach John Stevens, referring to the first two periods, when the Flyers fell behind, 2-0. "Give the Islanders credit. They worked hard. Their execution was crisp. . . . And I give credit to Mike Richards. I thought he took the game over. He addressed the team [between the second and third periods]. I didn't even go in after the second period. I left it up to the captains, and he's clearly the leader of the hockey team the way he played."
In explaining why he let the captains take over the locker room, Stevens said the players "get tired of hearing me talk sometimes." He said it was an indication of "the trust" he has in Richards and assistant captains Kimmo Timonen and Simon Gagne.
Joffrey Lupul, who played on three units on a night when Stevens did a lot of line-juggling, broke out of a slump by scoring two goals.
"It was a frustrating first two periods, but we didn't panic. We stuck with it," Lupul said.
Richards (six takeaways), who scored in the shoot-out on a clever backhand that caromed off the right post and into the net, downplayed his between-period talk.
"Everyone in the dressing room knew we needed to play better and could play better," he said. "It came down to going on the ice and executing and being more aware of the situations that came about."
"It was a very important two points, and I thought our team showed a lot of grit and determination to hang in there and come back," Stevens said.
After the first period, the Flyers left the ice trailing, 1-0.
The second period featured three fights, two of which were won by a Flyer: Daniel Carcillo decisioned Nate Thompson, and Arron Asham pounded Tim Jackman. The Isles' Joel Rechlicz decisioned Riley Cote.
In the second period, Stevens abandoned his recent lines and used several combinations, trying to find a spark. He found one when Lupul, playing on a revamped line with Darroll Powe and Asham, scored from the right circle with 15:36 left in regulation to get the Flyers to within 2-1.
Just 2:14 later, Scott Hartnell knocked in a rebound of Jeff Carter's shot past goalie Yann Danis.
The Flyers weren't done.
Hartnell stole the puck at center ice and made a great feed to Lupul, who swooped in on Danis and beat him with a backhand with 11:40 left. Lupul had been reunited with Carter and Hartnell on the shift.
The stunning turn of events - three goals in 3:56 - gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
Thirty-one seconds after Lupul's goal, Mark Streit tied it.
But shoot-out goals by Danny Briere and Richards and two shoot-out saves by Marty Biron enabled the Flyers to prevail.