The Flyers' bid to make the NHL’s version of the Elite Eight in the East took yet another hit here Thursday night. After carrying a two goal lead into the final minute of the second period, they began to unravel, eventually falling, 4-3, to the much-improved Islanders in the dreaded shootout.
While the point they earned on Scott Hartnell’s power-play goal with just 30 seconds remaining and Ilya Bryzgalov pulled for an extra attacker actually pulled them within six of the Rangers — who lost in Ottawa — they also slipped six behind the Isles.
"It sure seems like a loss right now,’’ said Scott Hartnell, who also connected on the power play just 4:14 into play, before Mike Knuble, playing for the first time in nine games, made it 2-0 at 17:25. "We get a 2-0 lead and it seems like we freeze and stop moving. That’s when their skill kicks in. We’re lucky to get a point.’’
From the time John Tavares’ backhander remarkably caromed off the skates off both Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson past a helpless Bryzgalov 19:00 into the second period, the Isles completely dominated. They set up camp in the Flyers' zone virtually the entire third period and had Peter Laviolette’s team — which had to play the second half of the game without Braydon Coburn — on its heels.
It seemed inevitable the dam would eventually burst, as Colin McDonald one-timed the equalizer home with 9:56 left. Less than four minutes later McDonald’s screened shot gave the lead to an Islanders team bearing no resemblance to the one the Flyers embarrassed 7-0 last time they met.
Only Hartnell’s persistence digging a loose puck out of a melee in front and slipping it past Evgeni Nabokov revived the Flyers. They managed to kill off a penalty and survive overtime to get into the shootout. That’s where a familiar fate awaited them after Claude Giroux gave them a brief lead. Ultimately, Josh Bailey — the fourth shooter — got the game winner after Wayne Simmonds missed.
"We need to find a way when we're up 2-1 going into the third to get those two points,’’ said a frustrated Giroux, who had two assists. "It's not that we didn't battle, it's just bounces that go in. I don’t know if we froze, but they did a good job of coming back and tying it up. Then we did a good job of coming back and tying it at the end.’’
But when you’re 14th in the conference chasing so many teams trying to climb your way up, you need more than one point in a game like this. Now, with the potent Bruins, followed by the Caps and Canadiens, coming to town over the next week, the task just gets that much harder
"When you live it day-to-day and you’re not getting the wins, it’s hard to catch you by surprise,’’ said Laviolette, who won’t know the extent of Coburn’s injury until today. "I know nobody is comfortable right now where we’re at.
"It makes for tough days and tough nights. This team and organization is accustomed to being in a different place that we’re not in right now.’’
Fifteen games left. Six points to make up and six teams to catch.
The Elite Eight never looked so far away.