There is no denying the appeal of a Game 7 — an adrenaline-fueled, all-eyes-upon-them, win-or-go-home opportunity players had dreams about since they were kids.
And among the combatants in the Eastern Conference semifinals, it is safe to say the team that a Game 7 appealed to most is the Philadelphia Flyers.
When the puck drops for Game 7 between the longtime rivals on Saturday at Toronto, the Flyers will look to complete their uphill climb into the conference finals, while the New York Islanders will aim to avoid the worst postseason collapse in franchise history.
The top-seeded Flyers, who trailed the best-of-seven series 3-1, forced the decisive game by earning a 5-4 double overtime win in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The winner Saturday night advances to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, which are schedule to begin Monday night in Edmonton.
“We wanted to have a chance,” head coach Alain Vigneault said following the Flyers’ third overtime win of the series. “If someone had asked me at the beginning of this series against such a strong opponent – one game, winner-take-all, I would have taken that.”
Ivan Provorov’s goal with 4:57 left in the second overtime was the third for the Flyers off an Islanders turnover after Scott Mayfield’s stick broke as he fired a shot from the blue line. It capped a game in which Philadelphia blew a 2-0 first period lead, twice fell behind by a goal and was outshot 53-31.
But Provorov’s goal ensured none of that mattered.
“There’s no doubt that this wasn’t one of our better games,” Vigneault said. “But at the end of the day, we found a way to get the job done.”
The Flyers are trying to mount a comeback from a 3-1 deficit for the second time, and the first time since they came all the way back from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 conference semifinals.
The sixth-seeded Islanders certainly would have taken a Game 7 opportunity when the regular season ended due to the pandemic on Mar. 12, when New York was mired in a seven-game losing streak and one point out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“This is a very good hockey team that we’re playing,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re pretty evenly matched. It’s probably fitting that it is a Game 7.”
But a magical late-summer run that put the Islanders on the doorstep of the franchise’s first trip to the conference finals in 27 years is threatening to end in painful fashion.
The Islanders have squandered a two-game lead in a best-of-seven just once – in 1978, when New York won the first two games of a quarterfinal series against the Toronto Maple Leafs before losing the next four.
“These moments don’t come around often,” Islanders left winger Matt Martin said. “Game 7s are special and we’ve got a chance to go to the conference final. Our goal is to win a Cup, so I’m really confident in the group that we have moving forward.”
Entering Friday, teams that forced a Game 7 after being down 3-1 were 29-28 in the decisive game.
Flyers center Sean Couturier’s availability is unknown after he missed Game 6 with an apparent lower-body injury. Left winger Oskar Lindblom is expected to play again after he saw 17:30 of ice time Thursday in his first game since December, when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
–Field Level Media