PHILADELPHIA — Oliver Wahlstrom scored in the ninth round of the shootout Tuesday night and the Islanders beat the Flyers 4-3 to claw their back to .500 after more than two months with a losing record.
When the Islanders fell below .500 on Nov. 16, they didn’t envision it would take so long to get back, but then the bottom fell out later that month.
The second night of back-to-back games against the Flyers gave them a chance to hit that benchmark.
“It’s definitely a starting point,” Matt Martin said before the game.
The victory, their second straight over Philadelphia, pulled the Islanders back to 13-13-6 (6-1-1 in their last eight), and they can only hope this starting point is also a jumping-off point. They’re now just a point behind the Flyers with seven games in hand, and could soon be getting out of last place in the Metropolitan Division, the next in a long checklist the Islanders need to hit if they want to return to the playoffs.
On Tuesday, though, the focus was just to check off the first of those: .500.
It looked as if the Islanders would fail to do so after Claude Giroux’s goal at 4:05 of the third period gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead. But with 4:28 to go in the game, the Islanders’ Identity Line came through.
Casey Cizikas scored just his second goal of the season — also his second in two nights — off a Scott Mayfield pass to tie the score at three, and breathe life into a team that looked frustrated and tired. In the three-on-three overtime, the Islanders got a huge save by Semyon Varlamov (who finished with 31) on a two-on-one rush. That sent the game to the longest shootout this season, which the Islanders finally won when Wahlstrom beat Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart.
Robin Salo opened the scoring just over two minutes into the game with a slap shot that got by Hart. But the Flyers found their footing soon after, with James van Riemsdyk scoring at 14:39 on a power play after Cam York’s shot went off the end boards and Varlamov looked to be caught unaware by van Riemsdyk in the crease.
The Islanders took the lead back at 13:28 in the second when Josh Bailey converted Anthony Beauvillier’s pass to the crease. But they handed it right back less than 30 seconds later, with Travis Konecny scoring after Oskar Lindblom nicked the puck off Varlamov, who was playing it out of his crease.
The Flyers doubled the Islanders’ shot total in the second period, putting them on their heels in the middle of the game for the second night in a row. And for the second night in a row, the Islanders found a way to weather the storm and come away with two points.
Make no mistake: .500 is a paltry milestone to be celebrating in mid-January. But it’s a milestone nonetheless, and the Islanders haven’t had much to be happy with in the last two months.
“It allows you to look forward,” coach Barry Trotz said before the game. “OK, we got back to even, what can we do with the next 50-odd games?”