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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Islanders' Game 5 loss to Flyers is not ideal, but there's no need to panic

The Islanders react after their 4-3 overtime loss

The Islanders react after their 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

There are two ways of looking at this for the Islanders and their fans.

One could argue that they have shown through five games of their playoff series against the Flyers that they are the better, more resilient team, with both losses coming in overtime after furious late comebacks to tie it.

Or one could argue that after missing a chance to close out Philadelphia in Game 5 on Tuesday night, they have opened the door for the dangerous Flyers to steal this series from under their noses.

The vote here is for the former.

The Islanders are a smart, calm, veteran-dominated team led by a smart, calm, veteran coach.

So as deflating as their 4-3 overtime loss was, given that a victory would have meant their first Eastern Conference finals in 27 years, panic is not the game plan.

The last two times this postseason the Islanders had a chance to close out a team, against the Panthers and Capitals, they failed on their first attempt and did the job on their second.

So players insisted after Scott Laughton’s game-winning tip-in at 12:20 of overtime that they would put the loss behind them quickly.

“Obviously, we would have liked to close it out,” Josh Bailey said. “That’s not the case . . . We’ll be moving on tonight.”

Said Derick Brassard, “In the playoffs, you just have to move on. Tomorrow’s a different day.”

The Islanders lost Game 2, also 4-3 in overtime, after trailing 3-0 early. On Tuesday, they trailed 3-1 with 4:14 left in regulation time and tied it on goals by Brock Nelson and Brassard.

It was exciting, dramatic stuff, and yet another impressive third-period performance by the Islanders, who have outscored all postseason opponents in the third, 21-6, and have outscored the Flyers in that period, 10-2.

To be sure, there are some ominous signs looking ahead to Game 6 on Thursday.

Center Mathew Barzal left the game in the third period when the Flyers’ Claude Giroux inadvertently caught him with his stick under Barzal’s face shield, hitting him in the eye.

Also, the Flyers’ first two goals came from two key players who had been goal-less and frustrated before Game 5.

Late in the second period Giroux, the Flyers’ captain, tied the game on a lovely tip-in of Philippe Myers’ point shot. A few minutes later, James van Riemsdyk scored on a 3-on-1 break, and it was 2-1.

They made it 3-1 early in the third when Matt Niskanen, another key goal-less player, albeit a defenseman not known for his goal-scoring, bested Semyon Varlamov.

Again, no reason to panic. The Islanders certainly are in a better position than their opponents. But also again: The last thing they needed was for the Flyers’ sleeping giants to awaken.

On Monday, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault told reporters this was a chance for his stars to make a mark, saying, “This is a great opportunity, I think, for our leadership group to change the narrative, change their legacy here.”

That won’t happen without a couple more victories, but the Flyers feel a lot better about that notion now than they did after Game 4.

Coach Barry Trotz gave his team a mixed review, at best, for its performance in the first two periods of Game 5. But he liked what he saw in the third and in an  overtime in which they had several excellent opportunities.

“Going into this series, I think everybody was thinking it might be a pretty long one. I was, anyway,” Trotz said. “You want to close it out as quick as you can, and we weren’t able to do that. So that’s on us, a little bit.

“We’ll have to regroup a little bit and focus one game. That’s all we have to do, focus on the one game, focus on shift to shift, focus on getting ready with maybe one or two adjustments and go from there.”

If not, then it will be OK to panic.

New York Sports