Survive and Advance: What we learned from Flyers 5, Islanders 4 (2OT)

Photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In 1991, Oliver Stone released a controversial film. It was called JFK in which he tackled an interesting, and since debunked, theory about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It was the retelling of a true story – of when an actual trial took place where in 1969 in Louisiana – when New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison put socialite Clay Shaw on trial for conspiring to assassinate the president.

In the movie, Garrison is played by Kevin Costner. There is an epic trial scene where Garrison is trying to disprove the single bullet theory that was authored by the Warren Commission that one lone gunman killed Kennedy.

In one of the more memorable lines from the film, Costner says this about the single bullet theory:

“The FBI says they can prove it through physics in a nuclear laboratory. Of course they can prove it. Theoretical physics can also prove that an elephant can hang off a cliff with its tail tied to a daisy! But use your eyes, your common sense.”

For years, I’ve wondered how exactly theoretical physics could prove that. Then I saw it with my own eyes on Thursday night. The mathematical formula looked like this:

Flyers 5, Islanders 4 (2OT)

Without getting all colorful with my description of this instant classic, a la Grantland Rice or Shirley Povich, there are no real words to describe what took place in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

I felt that the best analogy was, in fact, that visual presented in that movie from Oliver stone that came out some 29 years ago.

Notice the timestamp. That was during the third period of the game. Pretty much right after Scott Laughton tied the score 4-4. There would still be two more periods of hockey to follow, and it was more of the same.

And yet, here we are. Game 7.

The Flyers at one point in the first overtime period were being outshot 50-20.

And yet, here we are. Game 7.

For the more analytically inclined, The Islanders won the Corsi For battle overwhelmingly at 5-on-5 by 57.33 percent to 42.67 percent.

And yet, here we are at Game 7.

Just look at this game flow chart. Even up until the games conclusion it was trending more and more in the Islanders favor. They were the team generating the chances. They were the team expected to finally score and put this Flyers team out to pasture for the season:

(Courtesy: NaturalStatTrick.com)

And yet, here we are at Game 7.

The Flyers, who struggled enough as it was through the first five games, had to play Game 6 without top line center Sean Couturier, who was out with a knee injury, and rookie forward Joel Farabee, who was just deemed unfit to play, although many wonder if that injury was the result of the big hit he took from Adam Pelech late in Game 5.

And yet, here we are at Game 7.

You might be asking, how? How did everything look like it was going against the Flyers in Game 6 and somehow, someway we still find ourselves on the brink of just the 17th Game 7 in franchise history? How has this team, in the span of a week, morph into Hockey’s Rasputin?

Well, here’s what we learned:

1. Ivan the Terrible

That’s what they’re calling Ivan Provorov in New York now, after he was the latest overtime hero for the Flyers.

Here’s the game-winning goal, one that will be talked about for years among Flyers fans and will be part of an epic story in the franchise’s history if they complete the miracle comeback and win Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa:

All three of the Flyers wins in this series have now come in overtime. That’s the first time in franchise history that there have been three OT game-winners in the same series, although apparently it has happened 31 times previously in the NHL. Who knew?

What hasn’t been done as often in the NHL is four OT game-winners in the same series by one team. In fact, that’s only happened one time – the 1951 Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet, somehow, I’m nut sure if even this fan base, maybe the most prolific in all of sports when it comes to dealing with playoff drama, can handle another OT game in this series.

But, what makes the goal above so great, not just because Provorov jumps up into the play and fires a shot on goal, something the Flyers really struggled to do with any consistency in the contest, but is the play by Michael Raffl.

2. Unsung hero

Raffl staked a claim to a spot on the ice, inches in front of New York goalie Semyon Varlamov’s face, and completely took away his eyes on the shot.

It’s the kind of little things play that sometimes makes a difference in a game, and in this case, it did.

Varlamov never saw Provorov’s shot. The Islanders, so adept at blocking shots, got caught a little out of position on the play and no one could get in front of it. It was the best chance the Flyers had seen in the second OT, and thanks to Raffl, it was able to get through.

And while this unheralded play might be forgotten in time as this series goes down in playoff lore, the history book will remember that Raffl also scored a big goal in the second period to tie the score at 3-3:

What that history book may fail to note is that Raffl was only back in the lineup because he needed to be. See, he’s been nursing a foot injury since the first game of the restart earlier this month and has been in and out of the lineup. He missed both Games 4 and 5 and only came back in because the Flyers needed him with Couturier and Farabee out.

He gutted it out and gave the Flyers a great, great game.

2. Oskar Lindblom

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Just in case you needed a visual to see how many days it had been since Oskar Lindblom last played hockey.

That’s 270 days of fighting back from a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, that required intense chemotherapy treatments, and put not only his hockey career in doubt, but was a battle for his life.

And yet, he fought. He vowed to play hockey again. Many experts thought a year at least, maybe two. Some said it would be unlikely to get back to the highest level of the sport. And yet, in less than nine months, there he was, an emotional leader for the Flyers, reinserted into the lineup to replace injured teammates and providing a great spark.

And he played decent minutes – more than 18 of them – mostly on the fourth line and on the second power play unit.

He didn’t score, that would have required an instant 30-for-30 to be made on ESPN, but he didn’t have to. The outcome of a Flyers victory in the game was a bonus, because seeing Oskar play in the game was enough to make us all winners for one night. Bravo Oskar. Bravo.

3. Mr. Unflappable

That can be none other than Carter Hart, who despite allowing four goals in this game, stole one for the Flyers.

Hart made 49 saves.

Let that number germinate for a minute in your head. You know how many Flyers have ever done that before?

Here’s the list:

  • Bernie Parent – 63, 4/16/68
  • Brian Boucher – 57, 5/4/00
  • Robert Esche – 55, 4/22/06
  • Bernie Parent – 54, 4/10/68

That’s it.

Consider all the games the Flyers have played in the 54 years they’ve been in existence, and then consider this game saw a goalie make the fifth-most saves in one game out of all of them.

That’s pretty unique.

Hart was sensational, but specifically in the third period and overtime, when he all but willed the Flyers to victory.

Simply put, the Islanders weren’t beating him. No way in hell.

4. The undisputed world heavyweight champion of the world

We need Kevin Hayes to put on the belt as a goal celebration from now on. No, he didn’t do it in Game 6, but he did score a goal:

And the Flyers record this season when he does score, including the playoffs?

A cool 22-0-1.

It’s pretty incredible, really. His goal was the first of the game back in the first period and A LOT happened thereafter, so it’s hard to say it had a great impact, but Hayes was a workhorse. He got the primary assist on the game-winner by Provorov and was the only Flyer who seemed to be able to control the puck for even a smidgen of time.

With no Couturier, the Flyers needed a few guys to step up big time. Hayes was certainly one of them and played his part.

So was…

5. The stone cold killer

Scott Laughton makes faces sometimes that make him look deranged. For such a good dude, he seems to morph into something completely different on the ice.

The Flyers needed him to morph into some semblance of a top line center for Game 6. He did that, and did this too:

Filthy is right. Not only is it a good move, but it also was a great finish as Varlamov had the bottom part of the net covered.

It needed to be great. It was really the only bullet in the Flyers chamber in the third period, and Laughton came through when the Flyers needed him most.

Oh, Claufe Giroux sprung Laughton on this mini-breakaway with a pass in the neutral zone with that assist Giroux passed Danny Briere for sixth place all-time on the Flyers playoff scoring list. He now has 73 points in 84 playoff games.

Just sayin’.

5. An homage to John LeClair

It wasn’t intended to be one, but James van Riemsdyk channeled his inner Johnny Vermont for a brief moment in the first period, and that’s a good thing:

The slap shot from the wing entering the zone with speed is a lost art in hockey these days. Guys usually prefer to take that to the hose and either try to get the goalie to bite first, or use a power move to beat him to the opposite side of the net.

But JVR went old school, and it’s not something that’s usually in his bag of tricks.

Flyers public relations and statistical research guru Brian Smith sent out this nugget post game:

James van Riemsdyk scored a goal on a slapshot for only the fourth time in his career, including regular season and playoffs. He took 151 shots this regular season and only three of them were slapshots.

Hey, JVR picks his spots, and this one was a good one.

6. There was some cause for concern too.

We highlighted about all we could highlight from this wildly memorable contest. But, the fact still remains that the Flyers were badly outplayed for most of the night.

The Islanders took it to them. The Flyers continue to turn the puck over at an alarming rate. They continue to take bad penalties. They continue to lose coach’s challenges.

Wait, that last one might not be a bad thing, as Alain Vigneault has lost three challenges in this series and the Flyers have won all three of those games.

However, his challenge in Game 6 was a really bad one. It was clear there was not going to be goalie interference on the play. You could see it. I could see it. Everyone could see it, except AV.

The problem is, it’s not like the challenge just costs you a timeout like in the NFL. Nay, nay. You lose a challenge in the NHL, and you have to kill off a penalty. The Flyers were able to do it in the final minutes of Game 2 and survived the shorthanded situation in Game 5 as well, but not this one. The Isles scored on this freebie man advantage, and that’s solely on the coach. Can’t give away chances like that AV. People might start to think you’ve had one too many martinis.

7. So what’s next?

Game 7 is Saturday at 7:30 on NBC. I know for a fact that Sean Couturier will be itching to get back in there. The Flyers would love for him to be there too – he was clearly missed in Game 6. But, can his knee handle it? We know Coots can deal with the pain, he did it before in 2018, playing on a torn MCL and scoring four goals in two games.

But does he risk further damage this time by playing? That’s what the doctors will decide, and we’ll find out Saturday.

Oh, and the Flyers are 9-7 all-time in Game 7s, for what that’s worth.

In the meanwhile, take a breath. Relax. And get ready for what promises to be an exciting Saturday night on your couch.

For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie. Follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook and Twitter. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy preview every Flyers home game pregame and recap the first and second period action during intermission breaks  from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts (@AntSanPhilly @JoyOnBroad). 

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