Season ticket holders were allowed back (in limited numbers) for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, and they brought the noise to Nassau Coliseum — where the Islanders had yet to lose this season — starting in the pre-game. Alas, their enthusiasm was not reciprocated until the third period.
It wasn’t too little, too late. But just as shockingly as the Islanders stormed back, they gave the game and both points away, wasting a delightful comeback against a team coming off the psychological blow of a 9-0 loss to the other New York team.
Noah Dobson remains on the Covid Protocol List, and for the third straight game Sebastian Aho remained his replacement. Though he was on for the first two goals against, to my eyes he has eased in well and I’m not sure why he isn’t viewed as an option and hadn’t seen an NHL game in three years before Dobson’s absence.
Up front, the Isles did make a change by putting Michael Dal Colle back in for Austin Czarnik.
First Period: Sleepy
The opening period was very uneventful, and it was difficult to know which way this game would go. But it was clear the Flyers weren’t going to no-show like they did against the Smurfs the night before.
Probably the most noteworthy moments in the first were Jordan Eberle hitting a crossbar, Mathew Barzal taking a careless double-minor for high-sticking — the Islanders were efficient in killing it — and then this curious exchange between Brock Nelson and Travis Konecny at the closing horn:
Second Period: Wheels come off
The middle period was just not good. I mean obviously so, the Isles were outscored, 3-0. But they looked slow, they were outshot 12-5, every line and pairing looked off, and Semyon Varlamov struggled to locate the rebound on the first goal after making a good initial save.
The first Flyers goal came at just 2:26, Oskar Lindblom picking up the aforementioned rebound and slipping it around Varlamov.
Claude Giroux made it 2-0 at the midway point with a ramping rebound, and just four minutes later Jakub Voracek finished off a 3-on-2 with a nice one-timer.
Fairly early on Barry Trotz got the line blender out, something we haven’t seen often during his tenure. But that only seemed to make the Isles less in sync.
Anthony Beauvillier started to get a regular appearance next to Barzal and Jordan Eberle, the spot our captain Anders Lee once held and which Kieffer Bellows has had for the first handful of games without Lee. Bellows joined Oliver Wahlstrom on J-G Pageau’s wings.
Third Period: Wheels back on?
The Islanders arguably came out with a little more oomph in the third, though the Flyers were playing with house money. The visitors kept them outside, and the Isles made it through almost eight minutes without registering a shot on goal.
That shot, however, got the Islanders on the board. Maybe the plan was to lull Carter Hart to sleep and then leverage the rust. It started with a nice rush by Nick Leddy — one of a few he had in the game — before Leddy pushed the puck ahead to Dal Colle with space in the left wing circle. A solid, hard shot by Dal Colle, but one Hart should probably stop.
The Islanders’ next best chance came after Nolan Patrick went to the box at 11:28. The Isles had the puck in the Flyers zone for almost the entire power play, and set up several shots, but nothing produced.
But on a rush soon after that penalty expired, Aho jumped past Josh Bailey on another Leddy-led rush, and made a brilliant pull to his forehand before quickly zipping it to the top-right corner over Hart’s shoulder.
It was 3-2 with six minutes to go.
With 5:33 left, it was tied 3-3.
I can’t properly convey the degree of difficulty for Wahlstrom’s equalizer. It was another excellent play by Leddy, hustling to the right wing boards to retrieve a loose puck while pursued, puzzlingly, by three Flyers. Leddy turned and found Wahlstrom lurking at the back door, but his pass was slightly deflected by one of those three Flyers’ sticks. That was enough to cause the puck to bounce and flutter, but Wahlstrom dropped a knee to make contact and get some elevation. The puck squeaked in off Hart.
Leddy finds a wide-open Wahlstrom and it's a tie game. pic.twitter.com/qvxfQaNuHM— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) March 19, 2021
The Islanders controlled play for the next three minutes and looked to be pressing for a go-ahead goal to complete the stunner. This was going to be so fun, to read Flyers fan takedowns of their team after two nights displaying the two worst ways to lose.
Instead, an inexplicable icing by Scott Mayfield led to a Flyers offensive zone faceoff, which the visitors won for their first chance since the Islanders’ surge. They cycled play around the far corner, leaving Lindblom to escape Mayfield and stand open in the slot for the one-timer.
That gave the Flyers the lead again with just 2:22 to go. That was all they needed.
The Islanders mounted some pressure with Varlamov pulled for a sixth attacker, as they should have, but that was that.
Butch Goring summed it up in post-game: After the comeback it became almost more upsetting to lose this way, when you had a chance to notch a point or more so late, in contrast to the “just not our night” flatness that led to the 0-3 deficit.
- Again, really nice game for Leddy, who was one of the few bright spots even before he started compiling assists on all three goals.
- Dal Colle, first goal of the season. Wahlstrom...already has seven?!
- And Aho, Aho! It’s a nice sign, I guess, that they trusted him enough to keep sending him out in Dobson’s absence. Thomas Hickey is listed on the roster but I think Aho has done enough to keep that spot for now.
- Seriously, they not only robbed us of a fun come-from-behind potential-win, they robbed us of great and entertaining Flyers punditry that would’ve resulted. Do better, Isles.
Two more against these guys. Saturday again at the Coliseum, before both teams head to Philadelphia for the third of the series on Monday.