PHILADELPHIA -- As the losses pile up and the playoffs get further away, there is less and less to pick apart in the Islanders' game.
How they lost -- whether it's coughing up a game late, as they did in Washington on Tuesday, or getting steamrollered, as they did in a 6-3 loss to the Flyers here Thursday night -- matters little.
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What matters is that the Islanders are 1-4-1 in their last six, that they are nine points out of the eighth and last playoff spot, and that there are 18 games to go. It also matters that the Islanders have scored the first goal in the last three games, seemingly ready to challenge, and are 0-2-1 in those games.
"It would have been good to get a couple more, to step on their throats right away. We had a few chances," said Josh Bailey, who scored 1:35 in and then again 50 seconds into the second to tie the score at 2-2 before the bigger, better Flyers took control.
Bailey had another good chance from the slot that Ilya Bryzgalov snared a couple minutes after his first goal, and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called his timeout to wake up his team. They did that, and began to win most of the one-on-one battles for pucks and position in the Islanders' zone, beginning with Matt Read gaining position on Travis Hamonic to redirect a shot past Evgeni Nabokov to tie the score at 9:41.
"When you play a big team, you have to win those battles," Jack Capuano said. "We didn't."
Bailey's second goal tied it at 2, but the Isles were guilty of looking for the perfect play rather than tossing shots at Bryzgalov, who faced only 15 shots through two periods. When Nabokov got fooled by Jaromir Jagr's quick backhand at 8:58 of the second -- "I didn't like that one," Nabokov said -- the Flyers were controlling play. They took a two-goal lead on Read's second off the rush just 39 seconds later, when John Tavares' line was caught up ice.
"We're old enough guys in here to know we needed some pushback on them," said rookie Casey Cizikas, who set up Bailey's first goal and Kyle Okposo's third-period score, Cizikas' first two NHL points. "I don't think we realized it until there was about 10 minutes left."
Okposo scored his 14th at 9:11 of the third to make it 5-3 and the Islanders got a late power play, but Tavares and his linemates had no magic. An empty-netter by the Flyers' Sean Couturier accounted for the final line, but a loss is a loss right now, especially in regulation.
"I think we needed to be a little more physical on them," said Nabokov, who made 24 saves and allowed five goals in a game for only the second time this season.
The Islanders finish this four-game road trip in Boston tomorrow afternoon, then turn right around and face the Devils at home Sunday.
They still are tied for 13th in the East, and the math says they still are alive for the playoffs.
But whether they get pushed around or blow a late lead, points not gained mean time is running out, and fast.