Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Islanders' third overtime loss of series officially means it's time to panic

Islanders center Casey Cizikas slides into Flyers goaltender

Islanders center Casey Cizikas slides into Flyers goaltender Carter Hart as the puck heads into the net during the second period in Game 6 of an NHL second-round playoff series in Toronto on Thursday. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

Permission to panic, Islanders fans.

Somehow your team has turned a 3-1 series lead over the Flyers into a must-win on Saturday night, and they’re facing what would be a demoralizing setback for the franchise.

The Islanders have not blown a 3-1 playoff series lead in franchise history, and now they are two-thirds of the way there.

The only good news after Thursday night’s 5-4 loss in double-overtime in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series was that while fans have every right to be worried, the players and their coach insisted they are not.

And not without reason. They noted correctly that they had played mostly well in defeat, outshooting the Flyers 53-31 with a number of excellent scoring chances.

They now are 3-0-3 in regulation time against Philadelphia, having lost thrice in overtime, including the past two in a row, heading into Game 7.

“Playoff hockey and this quest that we’re on will challenge you physically, emotionally, mentally,” Matt Martin said. “It’s unpredictable.

“So we’re confident in our team, and if we put up another effort like that in Game 7, we like our chances.”

Mathew Barzal said that immediately after Game 6, the players talked about putting the loss behind them.

“The frustration level is honestly about 30 seconds, and that’s about it,” he said. “Nothing we can do. Game 6 is over now, and we’ve moved on.

“We’ve turned the page in the last 10 minutes, had a nice team talk after the game quickly, and moved on.”

The Islanders could have and should have won, if not for some bad breaks.

That included a literal bad break on the game-winner by Ivan Provorov at 15:03 of the second overtime, a play ignited when the Islanders’ Scott Mayfield broke his stick on a shot from the blue line.

Former Ranger Kevin Hayes set up Provorov for his winning shot from the high slot as Mayfield skated helplessly without a stick.

“That’s playoff hockey,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s stuff that’s not in our control. You have to battle through.”

It was another strange game in a strange series.

The Flyers led 2-0, at which point Trotz seemed close to pulling goaltender Semyon Varlamov — something he might well do for Game 7 in favor of Thomas Greiss.

But he said that after the second goal, he wanted to let Varlamov battle through his early struggles, given what he has meant to this postseason run.

Then the Islanders led 3-2 and 4-3 before the Flyers tied it in the third period and forced another overtime. It turned into the third-longest game in Islanders history.

“Our shots were there,” Anders Lee said. “Our chances were there, for sure. We couldn’t get one to go.”

Lee, Barzal and Jordan Eberle all had multiple chances on a night when the Islanders’ top line was in fine form.

If the Islanders win on Saturday, Games 5 and 6 will become footnotes, and the team and its fans will celebrate a first NHL final four appearance in 27 years.

But now there is one more bit of work to be done.

“Our season’s on the line,” Lee said. “These moments don’t come around often. Game 7s are special. We have a chance to go to the conference final, and our goal is to win a Cup.

If we put forth the effort we put out there tonight, I like our chances.”

Trotz noted how evenly matched the teams are and said, “If you really look at the big picture, it’s probably fitting that there is a Game 7.”

Fitting it is. But it also is discomfiting for fans, who midway through the third period on Thursday were planning to party like it was 1993.

Then the party was pooped. Panic is only natural.

New York Sports