The Islanders had spent too much time on this five-game road trip chasing the action and out of sync offensively. Their identity as blue-collar workers had gone missing.
They again were passive and sloppy early in Saturday night’s game. Then they started doing everything they need to do as they rallied from a two-goal first-period deficit.
It ended in a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center that extended the Islanders’ losing streak to four games, but that does not take away from the fact that there is plenty to build upon when the teams meet again Sunday night in Philadelphia to conclude the road trip.
"I didn’t like our start. I thought we were too soft, making soft plays," coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought our veteran guys made some horrible decisions and some horrible plays. I told them between the first and the second if we’re going to do anything, they have to be the solution for us to get rolling here."
Scott Laughton scored at 3:16 of overtime after Brock Nelson could not control the puck in the offensive zone. Laughton got the puck at the Islanders’ blue line, skated through the slot and around rookie defenseman Noah Dobson, then beat Semyon Varlamov (14 saves) with a sharp-angle shot from the left.
It was the teams’ first meeting since the Islanders eliminated the Flyers in a seven-game second-round playoff series. All three of the Flyers’ wins in that series — in which they came back from a 3-1 series deficit — came in OT.
"Tonight, based on the game, we probably deserved a better fate," Trotz said. "But I always say you’ve got to work through that. What I liked about our group is we dug ourselves a hole and we didn’t get small. We got big. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. That’s a step in the right direction."
"We talked about having joy in our game and having fun, and that’s not what we did off the start," said defenseman Scott Mayfield, whose right-point shot through traffic tied the score at 2 at 11:46 of the second period. "I think everyone sat down after the first in the locker room and thought about it and realized we just had to be better."
What fueled the Islanders’ first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1993 — they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games — was a four-line balance with a mix of production and physical presence. That has been very inconsistent this season, other than from Mathew Barzal’s top line with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee.
Trotz mixed up his lines to start the second period, flip-flopping Eberle to Nelson’s line with Leo Komarov and placing Josh Bailey on Barzal’s wing.
"When you look at the past few games, we haven’t had a consistent night from our whole team," said Eberle, whose one-timer from the slot past Carter Hart (26 saves) off defenseman Adam Pelech’s feed brought the Islanders within 2-1 at 7:31 of the second period. "It’s just trying to find something different. It kick-started us a bit and we started to play well."
Uncharacteristically, the Islanders struggled defensively in the first period as the Flyers converted two backdoor tap-in goals at the left post.
Jakub Voracek made it 1-0 at 3:38 off a give-and-go feed from Claude Giroux after Cal Clutterbuck turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Kevin Hayes nudged in James van Riemsdyk’s feed for a 2-0 lead at 13:55 after Komarov tried exiting the defensive zone without the puck.