Flyers
Oskar Lindblom started and ended the scoring in a wild 4-3 victory that the Flyers desperately needed. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Fifty minutes of perfection, five minutes of hell, but a much-needed night of relief. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 3-0 4-3, in regulation, over the New York Islanders, in one of the most confusing victories I’ve ever seen. Dominance gave way to despair as the teams traded three-goal swings, but Oskar Lindblom’s strong performance pushed the Flyers over the edge. It’s certainly an interesting way to finish the first half of this shortened season.

It’s very clear that no matter what happens in the second half of the year, nothing is going to come easy for this team. What should have been their first sound victory of March and a unifying message to the fans that better days ahead became a near-total collapse that could’ve been all but a dagger to the heart. Combining that with yesterday’s nightmare, the worst regular-season loss for any NHL team in over three years would have certainly been unsalvageable. I don’t where the Flyers belong after tonight’s performance, but at least it’s not there.

The Flyers came out of the gates with some new-look forward lines and a very obvious “we’re not giving up seven goals in this period” spring in their step. Nothing fancy, just simple and safe plays with the puck. Philadelphia did create some legit pressure on a Mat Barzal high-sticking double-minor, but Semyon Varlamov held down the fort. Carter Hart did likewise, and so the first twenty minutes played out evenly and low event-ly, the exact opposite of last night. So far, so good on that front.

Thankfully, the Flyers ramped up their offense in the second without surrendering any costly breakdowns. It’s fitting the Flyers’ first goal of this game started by doing something they seldom did last night; winning a puck battle. Travis Konecny fended away a puck in the neutral zone and moved over the blue-line. Claude Giroux took his pass and took a fairly routine shot that Semyon Varlamov stopped. However, he lost sight of the rebound, which Oskar Lindblom deposited to snap a 22-game goal-less drought. You might remember that I said I actually approved of Lindblom’s healthy scratch Wednesday, figuring he could benefit from some rest. Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

That new look second-line wasn’t done lighting the lamp. Just four seconds past the halfway mark of the period, Lindblom shielded the puck so Konecny could step in with support. He moved it to the point for a Nate Prosser blast, which captain Claude tipped past Varlamov to double the Flyers lead. 2-0 Flyers!

Philadelphia’s outstanding period continued, as the Flyers made smart decisions with the puck and won battles all period long. You know things are going well when Justin Braun jumps up in the rush to create a 3-on-2. Braun did a perfect job driving the net to back New York’s defenders off, giving Kevin Hayes time and space. Laughton used that to find a wide-open Jake Voracek at the right-circle, who ripped a one-timer high glove to give the Flyers a 3-0 edge.

Unfortunately, I was busy taking a stats for business test during the first two periods, so I didn’t get to enjoy any of the 2019-20 renaissance. What did I see in the third period? Well, for a while, some pretty good hockey. Philadelphia started the third very strong, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and keeping the Islanders out of the middle of the ice. Considering the Islanders aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, it seemed like this could be a pretty carefree finish for the Flyers.

But then Michael Dal Colle beat Hart glove side on a pretty ordinary shot from the left circle, one Hart would no doubt like back. Concerning, but not the end of the world. A Nolan Patrick high-sticking penalty gave the Isles a great chance to get within one, but Hart and the Flyers PK held down the fort. Yet just seconds after returning to 5-on-5, the Flyers got flat-footed. Sebastian Aho — no, not that one — breezed past them at the blue-line. His shot knicked Travis Sanheim’s stick and knuckled over Hart’s glove.

Uh oh.

There’s no way they can blow this. Not after what happened last night. Not after how well they played the first fifty minutes tonight. Certainly not when Hart desperately needs a revenge game. The Flyers’ ability to reset and relax when things get tough has been suspect at best, but come on, they can hold on to — YO, WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE COVERING WAHLSTROM?!?!

The Islanders rookie sniper found a soft spot the size of the Grand Canyon in the Flyers’ defensive coverage, which had been such a strong suit all night… until that. An uncovered Oliver Wahlstrom sneaks a one-timer past Hart short-side at the side of the net. And somehow, in a blinding seven-minute flash, a 3-0 lead vanished out of thin air.

Had the Islanders completed this comeback, I don’t know if words could’ve described the genuine pain that would’ve resulted. The Islanders kept cycling in the o-zone the aftermath of the tying goal, seemingly lurking for the kill. But then our saviors on the second-line climbed over the boards. The Flyers got a cycle of their going after a face-off win by Giroux. Lindblom collected the puck in the corner and left it for Konecny. Amidst the rotation, New York’s Scott Mayfield got lost for just a half-second too long. His missed coverage was the Flyers’ gain, as Konecny set up an Oskar LindBOMB to restore Philly’s lead with 2:22 to play!

The final seconds mercifully ticked off with another Islanders comeback thankfully absent. Honestly, the Flyers played a very strong game tonight. Adjusting for venue and score effects, Philadelphia held 64.15% of the shot share and 67.46% of the expected goals at 5-on-5. The penalty kill stepped up in their two opportunities. Alain Vigneault may have found a new weapon in the Lindblom-Giroux-Konecny line. There are a lot of positives to take away from this game.

And yet that seven-minute nightmare makes them difficult to remember. With the exception of the Wahlstrom goal, which was a total defensive breakdown, the Flyers played a very good third period. They hardly if at all sat back on their heels basically, winning the shot and chance battle at 5-on-5, adjusted for score and venue. Yet the Dal Colle goal, a shot Hart should have stopped, triggered another “here we go again” relapse that nearly cost them the game.

As previously mentioned, tonight’s game marks the halfway point in the Flyers 2021 regular season. Twenty-eight games down, twenty-eight games to go. What do we know so far? Individually, James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee have taken their games to another level. Sean Couturier is still amazing. Lindblom and Nolan Patrick understandably aren’t back to peak powers. Ivan Provorov still isn’t ready to carry a top-pair. Phil Myers and Carter Hart aren’t exempt from growing pains. It’s a lot to take in, even over just more than two months.

As a team, signals are similarly mixed. The special teams have shined at times, but slumped at others. Goaltending is a major concern, especially with Brian Elliott coming back to Earth as of late. The Flyers haven’t played championship-caliber defense, and it’s hard to imagine one player changing that on his own. Holding leads is a problem. Wednesday’s debacle aside, hanging around in games isn’t. The Flyers have certainly shown some impressive resilience on several occasions this season.

Right now, the Flyers are in a somewhat similar spot to where they were in January 2020. After a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins to kick off their post-all-star game run, I coined a term that I think perfectly describes the 2021 Flyers’ first-half. It’s called the Hakstolian Conundrum, and it asks a simple question: do the Flyers deserve more credit for battling through so much adversity or more blame for putting themselves in those situations so often?

As I wrote that night, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle. But the best way to answer this question is by what your first thought is when the final horn sounds. Tonight, it’s probably mostly relief. For some, the exciting finish and dominant process make this very successful. For others, the Flyers just dodged a self-fired bullet that will eventually register a fatal blow if they keep pulling the trigger as often as they have so far in 2021.

The best way to handle the Hakstolian Conundrum is to play past it. The next time you take a 3-0 lead, don’t make the fans squirm in their seats. If one goal goes in, remember you’re still up two. It sometimes seems like this Flyers team thinks they’re playing with Moneypuck on. As I said last night, I don’t know if this team can be fixed. Tonight does give me confidence there are enough tools here to do so, or at least do a good-enough patch-up job before GM Chuck Fletcher saves the day. Winning is the only way to get him to buy. But the Flyers themselves need to buy into the belief that games like this belong to them, or else the next potential victory might be snatched by the jaws of defeat.

Lindies

Adding injury to last night’s insult, Michael Raffl and Robert Hagg both missed tonight’s game with injury. Raffl’s status is unclear, while Hagg is out 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury. The three games since I actually praised Hagg have gone healthy scratch, 9-0 loss, injury. I must have jinxed him.

Connor Bunnaman and Andy Andreoff were replaced on the fourth-line by Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Carsen Twarynski. Surprisingly, Shayne Gostisbehere sat for a second straight game. Vigneault reasoned that he wanted to give last night’s top-four a shot at redemption. And it doesn’t take a hockey genius to see the perils of a third-pair with the offensive-minded Gostisbehere and Erik Gustafsson.

Nate Prosser filled in for the injured Hagg instead, and his pair with Gustafsson was legitimately stellar tonight. The duo posted a gaudy 92.63% Corsi & 100% xG (score adjusted) and a 1-0 goal differential at 5-on-5.

This is the third time in the last two seasons the Islanders have overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Flyers. The first was a 4-3 Islanders shootout win in November 2019 (one of just two losses all season when leading after one, the other of which happened the day before); the other was Philly’s 4-3 OT win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Isles also overcame two-goal deficits in each of the first two meetings of the year, both of which the Flyers won in OT.

You might as well call the second line the milestone line after tonight’s performance. Giroux’s goal, his 263rd, ties him with Simon Gagne for ninth-most by a Flyer. Lindblom’s two-goal performance is just the second of his NHL career, and his first since February 17, 2019. And Travis Konecny had his first three-assist game since December 19, 2019.

This was the Islanders’ first regulation home loss of the year. Every other team in the NHL had at least one regulation home loss other than the Isles coming into tonight.

Was going to put this in yesterday’s recap, but it didn’t feel right to put in such a joke of a game/takedown of an article. Rest in peace to Timur Faizutdinov, a 19-year old who passed away earlier this week after taking a puck to the head. Such a sad story for everyone involved. My condolences to his family, friends, and teammates.

3 Stars

3rd: Claude Giroux – Goal (7), Assist (16)

2nd: Nick Leddy – 3 Assists (18, 19, 20)

1st: Oskar Lindblom – 2 Goals (3, 4)

Next

3/20, 7 PM – PHI @ NYI

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