PHILADELPHIA – They took up right where they left off last September when the Flyers and Islanders battled tooth-and-nail down to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The two teams fought to a draw in regulation time on Saturday night and needed extra hockey minutes to decide this one.
Finally, in overtime, a goal by Scott Laughton at 3:16 gave the Flyers a 3-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers came out at the start and perhaps skated their best period of the season, racing to a 2-0 lead.
Goals by Jake Voracek (3:38) and Kevin Hayes (13:55) gave the Flyers a hopeful edge.
But they handed it right back to the Islanders in the second period when the visitors scored twice to tie the score.
Coach Alain Vigneault saw the Flyers improve their record to 6-2-1 and what encouraged him the most, at least in the first period, was the way his team played at even-strength, something he emphasized by benching Travis Konecny for this game.
“They were getting all their pucks behind our ‘D’ (in the second and third periods),’’ Vigneault said. “But we were able to hang in there and found a way to get it done in overtime.’’
Laughton got the game-winner when he finished off a nice feed from defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. “Ghost’’ has been playing well since recovering from a case of COVID.
This looks like the old Gostisbehere before a pair of knee operations.
“There’s no doubt the Shayne I’m seeing on the ice right now is one that has more confidence,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s making more plays. His gap is tighter. I can only think it’s going to get better. There’s a man who was out with COVID for quite some time, 14 days, came back, had a practice, he’s played three games and he’s played good for us.’’
Voracek opened the scoring by connecting on a nice give-and-go play with Claude Giroux. The play started with Voracek rushing down the middle, dishing to Giroux in the right circle, then pushing Giroux’s return pass beyond the reach of goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Hayes scored on a similar play. This time Ivan Provorov began the sequence by dishing to James van Riemsdyk in the right circle. Hayes rushed to the net and was able to guide JVR’s pass into the net.
Things, however, went south in the second period.
The Islanders broke through against Carter Hart. Defensemen Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim both went for a loose puck to Hart’s left, but the puck bobbled off Sanheim’s stick and straight to Jordan Eberle, who buried a shot past Hart at 7:31.
At 11:46, Scott Mayfield unloaded a heavy shot from the right faceoff dot to tie the score.
That’s the way it stayed until Laughton found an opening at the left post in overtime and fired in a shot past Varlamov.
“Ghost brought it up, it was a two-on-two play, ‘G’ (Giroux) became behind me, got the defender to switch,’’ Laughton said. “I just tried to hold onto it and find an angle at the net.’’
Laughton said the team’s 6-2-1 record really isn’t deceiving but maybe has been helped by a bit of good fortune.
“I would say it’s a little bit of both,’’ he said. “I think you’ve got to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. We have to do a better job getting pucks at the net (the Flyers were outshot 28-17), creating chances for ourselves, hold onto the puck and not give it away as much.’’
Hayes know there’s room for improvement at even strength.
“Playing the right way five-on-five is getting back to basics,’’ Hayes said. “Getting pucks deep, getting more chances than the other team. I thought we did it in the first period but we have to find a way to do it for the full 60 (minutes).’’
The two teams meet again on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Brian Elliott will start in goal for the Flyers.