Inadvertently, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault may have gotten an injury update on the opposition with his own eyes Tuesday night.
During the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 5 that night, Islanders All-Star center Mathew Barzal took an accidental but scary high stick to the face from Claude Giroux with under five minutes left in regulation. Barzal did not play the remainder of the third period or overtime.
On Thursday morning, ahead of Game 6 (7 p.m. ET/NBCSN), Islanders head coach Barry Trotz labeled Barzal as a game-time decision.
Following the game, Vigneault ran into Barzal and New York’s coaches in the hotel elevator.
“I was with the four coaches from the Islanders and Barzal,” Vigneault said with a laugh Wednesday in a video interview. “This is life in the bubble.
“I was happy to see and talk to him, see that there was nothing serious. That could have been a real bad accident, but fortunately the young man is all right.”
Will Barzal play? Will he not play? Is this a little bit of gamesmanship? Other than the Islanders (and maybe Vigneault), nobody truly knows, but what is certain is the challenge that Barzal gives the Flyers. The swift and skilled 23-year-old center, who owns 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 11 career regular-season games against the Flyers, has four points (one goal, three assists) through five games of the series.
For the Flyers, who trail the best-of-seven second-round playoff series 3-2, Barzal’s status does not impact their preparation or game plan.
“We hope that the young player, seems like a very nice young man, that it was nothing serious,” Vigneault said Thursday ahead of Game 6. “That was an unfortunate play, unfortunate accident. We’re preparing, we’re focused on our team, our group and what we need to do. Whoever the Islanders put on the ice, we know they’re going to be good players and they’re going to come to play. We need to focus on our group and what we need to do.”
The Flyers’ group very well might be without its most important player in Sean Couturier. Vigneault could not (and would not) comment on Couturier’s status for Game 6. The Selke Trophy finalist was forced to leave Game 5 late in the second period and did not return after colliding with Barzal. It appeared that Couturier may have banged knees with Barzal. For a few reasons, Couturier’s chances of playing Game 6 do not look promising, but you never know.
“Like I’ve mentioned quite a few times, it’s against NHL protocol to talk about availability,” Vigneault said Thursday. “What I will say, though, throughout our season and this time here in the back to play, we’ve been of the mentality of next man up and who’s ready to play.
“Throughout the season, I think the Flyers had the most rookie players play in their first game in the NHL and we just kept playing. Before every game, we’ve got decisions for lineups. Obviously not everybody is 100 percent at this time of the year and we’ll do our best to put the best lineup that we feel is going to give us a chance to win tonight.”