Despite the fact the New York Islanders carried the play for much of the night, it was really hard to imagine the Philadelphia Flyers losing Game 6 of their second-round series. It was, after all, the return of Oskar Lindblom in his first game back since his cancer diagnosis in December.
And true to the script, the Flyers managed to gut out a 5-4 victory in double-overtime thanks to a goal from defenseman Ivan Provorov. Now, Lindblom gets a chance to play at least one more hockey game this season.
This was by far a foregone conclusion, narratives be damned. The Flyers looked outgunned for large stretches of the game and unforced errors kept them from pulling away from the Islanders, who got poor goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, while young Carter Hart was herculean for Philadelphia.
“Carter is a young goaltender who is growing and getting better,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Without him tonight, we’re not there.”
Indeed, the 22-year-old made 49 saves on the night compared to Varlamov’s 26 and many of the chances on Hart were serious scoring threats.
But of course it’s impossible to ignore what the return of Lindblom meant to the team and to the young Swedish winger himself. Back in December, Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone and tissue cancer. From an outside perspective, it would seem near impossible for him to return to the ice the same season he went through chemotherapy, but Lindblom would not be denied.
“I started to think positive thoughts during chemo,” Lindblom said. “I knew I would play one day but I didn’t know when. Today was the day and I was happy to be with these guys.”
The Flyers actually did need the forward’s help, too: top center Sean Couturier and impact rookie left winger Joel Farabee were both unavailable for the elimination game, so Vigneault had a chat with Lindblom in the morning, giving the left winger a sense of how he would use him. That plan got stretched out a bit due to the game’s length, but it all worked out for the best, with Lindblom playing 17:30 of ice time and even seeing some power play duty.
“Considering what he’s been through…for me, doesn’t it say so much about the young man?” Vigneault said. “He gets cleared on July 2nd, we start our camp on July 13th, he goes back home for a couple days – then he goes into quarantine and starts working out. It shows his will to help. A month later he’s helping his teammates win a Game 6.”
Naturally, the impact Lindblom’s return had on those teammates probably can’t be measured in any sort of tangible way, but it certainly gave them a boost (and in terms of sportsmanship, the Isles joined the Flyers in a stick-tap salute to Lindblom during a first-period faceoff).
“This kid has so much courage,” said captain Claude Giroux. “He played unbelievable, too. It’s been a long battle and this guy’s heart – you have to see it to believe it.”
Lindblom admitted that it was hard to step right into a playoff game, but he and his mates grinded it out and earned a win against an Islanders team that seems to be flagging after dominating the early portion of the series.
Now, the Flyers and Isles head to a most unpredictable Game 7. Does New York pull Varlamov in favor of Thomas Greiss, a backup goalie in name only who has better numbers, albeit in limited duty? Can Philly continue to ride the hot hand of Hart and the inspiration of Lindblom?
In Game 6, Philadelphia got a Hollywood ending. Now they need the sequel.