If there’s one thing no Islanders fan wants to see, it’s the team’s young first-line center, Mathew Barzal kneeling on the ice, with his helmet off, and holding his face. But that was the sight late in the third period of Game 5 of the Islanders’ second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto.
With 4:47 left in regulation, and the Islanders trailing by two goals, Barzal had taken a stick to the face by Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Thoughts of a comeback were secondary to the health of the Isles’ 23-year-old star at that point.
Somehow, the Islanders did end up scoring two goals to tie the game and force overtime, before eventually losing, 4-3, on a goal by Scott Laughton at 12:20 of the extra session. But the rally happened without Barzal, who left the game with a towel pressed up against his eye and blood dripping down his face. Coach Barry Trotz had no update on Barzal’s status after the game. Game 6 of the series will be Thursday.
“I don’t have an update, but we’ll see where that is tomorrow,’’ Trotz said. “Hopefully, I can give you a better idea. And I’ll have a better idea.’’
Giroux had beaten Barzal to a puck at the left wing boards inside the Islanders zone, near the blue line, and he turned and dumped the puck back in deep toward the far corner. His stick appeared to ride up underneath the eye shield of Barzal on the follow-through, getting Barzal on the side of his face, near the right eye.
Barzal had scored the Islanders’ only goal to that point, a controversial power-play effort where he had been pushed into the Flyers’ goal crease and was in there when Josh Bailey collected the puck behind the net and wrapped it around the post. The puck banked in off Barzal’s skate to open the scoring at 1:20 of the second period.
The Flyers challenged the play, suggesting Barzal had interfered with goaltender Carter Hart, but after video review, the goal stood, as Barzal was ruled not to have interfered with Hart. The goal was initially credited to Bailey, but was changed to Barzal after the game.
Two goals late in the second period and one early in the third gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead. After Barzal left the game, the Isles managed to get goals from Brock Nelson and Derick Brassard to tie the score and force overtime. Barzal did not play in the overtime.
“I thought we responded pretty well with him out,’’ Trotz said. “Obviously, we worked our way back into that game.’’
The Islanders will certainly be hoping Barzal isn’t seriously injured, and in danger of missing Game 6. After he left the game, Jean-Gabriel Pageau took his place between Nelson and Jordan Eberle.
“They’re similar players,’’ Eberle said of Barzal and Pageau. “Righthanded, (and) they’re quick through the middle. JG’s a great faceoff guy, who’s responsible in his own end, so he’s been a great addition to our team. And, you know, look at the depth throughout our lineup — guys go down, Guys step up. and that’s what we’ve done for the most part all year.’’