UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Flyers know they have to overcome astronomical odds. They know that no team in NHL history has ever qualified for the playoffs when it faced a 16-point deficit at any point in a season.
Which is why the Flyers have had tunnel vision and haven’t looked too far ahead.
“We just focus on the next game,” left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “It’s easier that way.”
It was easy Saturday night as the Flyers defeated the New York Islanders at boo-happy Nassau Coliseum, 5-2, and inched to within five points of a playoff spot with 14 games left.
Van Riemsdyk gave the Flyers the lead for good in the dying seconds of the first period, and Jake Voracek (two assists) and Nolan Patrick (goal) boosted the lineup while returning from injuries.
“I felt rested,” said Voracek, who had a few Isles take runs at him late in the game after he was assessed a five-minute interference penalty.
Brian “Moose” Elliott (25 saves), Travis Sanheim (two assists, plus-4), and Ivan Provorov (plus-4) also played key roles for the Flyers, who won for the second time at Nassau since last Sunday, when they whipped the Islanders, 4-1. The Flyers scored a total of nine goals in the last two games against the Isles, who took the league’s stingiest defense (2.36 goals per game) into Saturday.
“I think we’re just playing fast. ... That’s something we’re focusing on,” Patrick said after the Flyers went to 17-4-2 in their last 23 games. “We’re confident now. We feel like we can play against anyone.”
"We were really good defensively; we didn’t give up much, and we eliminated their speed through the neutral zone,” Voracek said.
Sean Couturier (28th goal) and Patrick (13th) scored 4 minutes, 1 second apart early in the second period to extend the Flyers’ lead to 4-1.
Voracek missed the previous two games with an apparent knee injury; Patrick missed nearly two full games with a head injury.
Shortly after Patrick’s goal, the Flyers killed off a five-on-three that lasted 1:34. Elliott, who made key stops on Adam Pelech and Anthony Beauvillier when the Flyers had a 3-1 lead, made four saves during those power plays, and one shot hit the post.
The Islanders managed just one shot while they had a two-man advantage.
“Guys sacrificed their bodies” to block shots, right winger Ryan Hartman said of the penalty kill.
Travis Konecny made it 5-1 when he scored from the left circle with 2:34 remaining in the second. The three-on-one break was started by a defensive gem by Scott Laughton down the other end.
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss, who began the night fourth in the NHL in both save percentage (.928) and goals-against average (2.22), allowed five goals on 15 shots and was replaced by Christopher Gibson to start the third period.
Van Riemsdyk and Hartman scored goals late in the first period to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead, wiping out a fluky Islanders tally that deflected off the visitors’ Corban Knight.
Van Riemsdyk scored on a backhanded rebound of a shot taken by Voracek, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead with 3.1 seconds to go in the first. It was his 20th goal and 14th in his last 25 games.
Hartman’s 11th goal this season and first as a Flyer knotted the score at 1-all with 4:40 left in the first. The goal, set up by Provorov’s rush through traffic, was scored on Hartman’s own rebound.
With 14:19 left in the game, Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk ran into a braced Voracek -- who lifted his body and leaned slightly backward as the Islanders defenseman crashed into the right winger’s back -- and appeared to injure his shoulder as he went down to the ice.
“I tried to protect myself and, to be honest, maybe the puck was a little further [ahead] than I thought,” Voracek said.
As Boychuk went off the ice, he had words for Voracek, who was sitting in the penalty box.
“He’s pointing at me like it’s WrestleMania or something,” Voracek said. “Come on, it’s a hockey game. This is a guy who was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year at the end of the game, and he’s going to do that. Give me a break.”