It was inevitable that the Flyers would eventually lose to the New York Islanders. But after two years of dominance, playoff-hopeful Philadelphia picked the worst possible time for a letdown.
Playing mostly for pride with only a handful of games left, the Islanders scored three goals in the first period – two by Blake Comeau – and snapped a 15-game losing streak to Philadelphia with a 6-4 victory Thursday night.
“I didn’t know about that stat until the last time we played them,” Comeau said. “I don’t think anybody thinks about it. It’s a different game every time we play them.”
Comeau gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead 2:11 in and doubled the advantage 5:06 later – both off assists from rookie John Tavares. Frans Nielsen made it a three-goal edge 28 seconds after Comeau’s second on New York’s eighth shot on goalie Brian Boucher.
New York – which tied its highest scoring output this season – kept alive minuscule playoff possibilities, but is still eight points below the post-season cutoff with five games left. The Islanders, 0-12-3 in the previous 15 against the Flyers, took solace in finally beating their Atlantic Division rivals, who started the streak on March 1, 2008. It is the longest winning streak over a team in Flyers’ history and was the longest current run in the NHL.
“We didn’t have time to be overconfident the way the game started,” Flyers forward Danny Briere said. “We’re battling for our lives here and the Islanders are trying to play spoiler.
“We have to keep our heads high. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
Frans Nielsen, Sean Bergenheim, Trent Hunter, and Jon Sim also scored, and former Flyers goalie Martin Biron made 31 saves for the Islanders, who have won three of four. Arron Asham, James van Riemsdyk, Briere and Darroll Powe had goals for the Flyers, 1-5-1 in their last seven.
Philadelphia, which outscored New York 51-25 during its dominant stretch, was the only team second-year Islanders coach Scott Gordon hadn’t beaten. This one could hurt the playoff chances for the Flyers, who started the night in a three-way tie for the sixth through eighth places in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia caught a break when the Boston Bruins lost 1-0 to Florida.
The Flyers and Bruins are tied with the Montreal Canadiens at 82 points, two more than ninth-place Atlanta and four in front of the 10th-place New York Rangers. All three tied teams have five games left. Montreal will visit Philadelphia on Friday.
“I would say it will be the biggest game of the year,” Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger said.
Comeau got this rout started with help from Flyers forward Briere and video replay. Comeau flipped a rising shot from the right wing boards that deflected in off Briere’s high stick as he battled Tavares in front.
Comeau got another fortunate bounce moments later when he swung a puck from behind the net that clipped the skate of defenceman Lukas Krajicek and caromed past Boucher. Comeau has 16 goals this season, and 10 have been scored in his past 16 games – including two straight two-goal efforts.
Nielsen finished the first-period spurt off a feed from Sim at 7:45.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette used his timeout, but it was too late. Philadelphia couldn’t carry the momentum of an impressive 5-1 home win over New Jersey on Sunday through a rare late-season, three-day break.
“We were sluggish in the first period,” Briere said. “We didn’t play our best. At this time of year, we have to be ready for every game.”
Boucher gave up a soft goal 3:08 into the second when Bergenheim banked a shot in off the goalie’s leg from below the goal line. But former Islanders forward Asham brought the Flyers within three at 12:26 of the second.
The Flyers fell behind 5-1 when Hunter’s shot from the right circle sneaked in under Boucher’s left arm 2:30 into the third. Boucher, who allowed five goals on 24 shots, was then relieved by Jeremy Duchesne – making his NHL debut.
“I don’t know if they overlooked us tonight or not,” Biron said. “It’s hard to come out and play every game like it’s your last game. Mentally and physically, it’s exhausting.”
Van Riemsdyk answered Hunter’s goal 1:52 later with a power-play tally to bring the Flyers within 5-2. Sim pushed the lead back to four at 11:52. Briere’s 25th of the season, credited after a video review, made it 6-3 with 5:07 remaining. Powe finished the scoring with 1:09 left.
NOTES: Van Riemsdyk sat out Sunday because of a bruised left knee. He was scoreless in his previous 17 games and 21 of 22. … Comeau has four multigoal games in his past 15. … Duchesne is the sixth goalie to dress for the Flyers this season, the fifth to play.