Ding, dong, the Flyers are dead.
Their season was waning long before tonight, their fans seemingly accepting the fate a poor and injury-ravaged defense gets you. But the Islanders' methodical 4-1 win at Nassau Coliseum put seven points between the two teams and kept the Flyers five points and four teams out of eighth.
As seconds wound down after the Isles put the game away late in the third period, the Coliseum was alive with anticipation for what just might be around the corner, fans feeling chipper enough to taunt the Flyers' final-minute powerplay with a mocking "Last-place Fly-ers" chant to the tune of the familiar "Let's go Fly-ers" drill. Long-suffering fans deserved that moment, and many more.
The Run of Show
The first period looked sluggish. No jump from the Isles, even though they outshot the Flyers 8-5 in the period. Looked a bit like a team reminded repeatedly to concentrate on structure and discipline, but momentarily forgetting that you need to also skate with urgency within that structure.
They were victimized when a home run pass from Claude Giroux to Jakub Voracek beat Josh Bailey and Andrew MacDonald, sending Voracek in clear. Voracek's move probably beat Evgeni Nabokov -- it looked like the puck made it through to Nabby's toes, which scooted back over the line -- but MacDonald's dive made sure it was a goal by knocking Nabby over the line and the net clear to the boards.
Fortunately, the Isles got that goal back by the 16th minute, with Brad Boyes making some pretty moves before feeding Matt Moulson after a John Tavares breakout chip started the play.
Despite 27 combined shots, chances were again few and far between for both squads in the second period, but the Islanders had two notable ones they couldn't cash in. On the first, Michael Grabner got a step around Luke Schenn, but Schenn's belly sprawl forced Grabner's leg aside enough that all he could muster was a backhand as his body drifted behind the net. On the second, Kyle Okposo got a breakaway, but here, too, backside pressure directed him to choose backhand after a mild forehand fake, and Mason's glove was ready.
Overall, the second was not a pretty period -- neither in hockey aesthetics nor in the Islanders' performance, though they rallied in the final six minutes or so and ended up getting the go-ahead goal on the rush. As Keith Aucoin rushed up the right wing, Colin McDonald combined with him on what was almost a Jedi mind pick, allowing C-Mac to gaint he line, pull up and find Michael Grabner in the high slot. Grabner made no mistake, shooting through a screen and glove-side past Mason.
The third period was familiar, a repeat of what we've seen from the Isles lately. Nothing fancy -- though a few pretty passes on the powerplay almost created an insurance goal -- but lots of safe dumps to keep shifts short and keep the Flyers running around or at least retrieving in their own zone. This is the kind of dangerous game that can be reversed by a bounce going the wrong way, but played right it still keeps your odds of succeeding high.
The insurance goal finally came with 97 seconds left on a Matt Moulson-John Tavares 2-on-1. Moulson fed back for Tavares, who was stopped by Steve Mason, but in keeping Moulson from the rebound Erik Gustafsson generously pushed the puck over the line.
Casey Cizikas doubled the insurance with an empty net goal 18 seconds later. The final 1:09 was all Coli celebration.
- They were victimized on the Flyers goal and had several frustrating close calls and nice plays that perhaps ended with one too many passes, but it was another promising game for the second line. Their chemistry is there on offense, their positioning is disciplined without the puck. Two consecutive good shifts from them led to good pressure before the Isles' second goal, and as the Isles built pressure at the end of the second.
- I don't think the top line is back to form exactly, but they produced two goals off of counterattacks and put nine shots on goal, with Moulson adding four more attempts that were blocked.
- Thank you, Bruno: Ex-Islander Bruno Gervais had a glorious chance to blast the tying goal with a screened shot set up on a tee. It went wide and rank around the boards, thankfully.
- Meanwhile, Thomas Hickey and Lubomir Visnovsky: So good. So good.
- Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald good in their shutdown role too.
- Matt Carkner? Makes me nervous as hell handling the puck behind the net. It's not his game, but the lack of smoothness there invites accidents.
- The ice looked bad to me: Bodies hitting the deck (Andrew MacDonald shot by a sniper multiple times), pucks never settling ... and then there was a 20-second segment where apparently navigational satellites were also jammed. Colin McDonald and Kimmo Timonen collided, taking each other out, then Matt Read and Casey Cizikas collided in the neutral zone, sending Cizikas right back to the bench.
- Nabokov was strong. No swimming. No softies. Clear eyes on screen shots. Well-directed rebounds to the corners or to his waiting defense, who were almost always positioned in the ideal spot. This was more of what the Isles defense has been delivering during this 7-1-1 run.
- Per MSG (which is probably per Hornick): The Isles are four games over NHL ".500" for the first time since late February 2008.
John Tavares, Superstar
We are excited for the last 2 home games and to keep this going. We want to send a message. It's a great feeling to be a part of this. It can get pretty loud out there and the atmosphere is amazing. They carry us through.
Tough games to come this week against the Bruins and Rangers, and though the Isles have been great on the road this year, that season-ending five-game trip looms. That includes one more against the Flyers, when they'll be in spoiler role. A repeat of tonight would put a nice exclamation point on this upside down and quite overdue season.