In his Zoom news conference before Game 6 of his team’s playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, Islanders coach Barry Trotz said first-line center Mathew Barzal’s availability would be a “game-time decision.’’
For Barzal, there was never a doubt. He had been injured late in the third period of Game 5 when Claude Giroux’s stick inadvertently got under his eye shield and clipped him on the side of the face, near his right eye. Barzal was escorted off the ice with a towel pressed up against the eye and blood dripping from his face.
“When it happened during the game, I was a little bit worried for a few minutes there,’’ he said. “My vision wasn’t all there for a few minutes. And then [the doctor] stitched me up and I was pretty close to coming back out — maybe if there was a second overtime in Game 5. But it was still a little impaired. I slept on it, woke up the next morning feeling really solid. We did a little team stretch, I felt good, and then skated today and my vision was 100% and I was ready to go.’’
So Barzal played in Game 6 — and played great, scoring a goal and setting up another. Unfortunately for the Islanders, it wasn’t enough. They were pushed to a Game 7 when Ivan Provorov scored with 4:57 left in the second overtime to give Philadelphia a 5-4 win.
The good news for the Islanders is that they dominated play throughout the game. The first line of Barzal between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle produced countless excellent scoring chances.
“I thought his line created quite a bit,’’ Trotz said of Barzal. “I thought he had, obviously, really good legs and he was dangerous and he scored a big goal . . . That was a huge one for us.’’
Barzal, his right eye blackened and a bandage over the eyebrow, seemed intent on making his presence known from his first shift. Barely 90 seconds into the game, immediately after he jumped onto the ice, he beelined into the Philadelphia zone and delivered a solid shoulder check on Tyler Pitlick.
On his second shift, Barzal apparently got under the skin of former Ranger Kevin Hayes, who slashed him on the arm as he exited the faceoff circle.
Then, at the end of the shift, as Barzal was heading to his bench, Michael Raffl bumped him on his way to the Flyers’ bench. Barzal shoved Raffl into the boards in front of the Flyers’ bench and held him there before finally skating away.
“I don’t think necessarily I was looking for it,’’ Barzal said, “but I think any time you come off maybe a freak accident like mine was, you want to get yourself right into the game and get some contact . . . just to have that reassurance that you’re all good and everything’s fine. So I didn’t really chase the physicality early on, but I took some hits [and] gave one or two and just tried to get myself into the game.’’