The New York Islanders downplayed the fact they won all three regular-season games against the Flyers, the team they will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Monday night at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
“It has no bearing on where we are right now,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said in a Zoom call Saturday from Toronto. “It seems like it’s years ago since we played them. What you’re doing now is what really matters, and what you did before has zero bearing on the effect of these games.”
The Flyers went 0-2-1 against the Isles in the regular season. In each loss, they were playing on the back end of back-to-back games on consecutive nights. In the last meeting, New York broke a 3-3 tie with 41 seconds left on Feb. 11 as it defeated goalie Brian Elliott, 5-3. The Islanders also scored a 5-3 victory on Oct. 27, chasing Carter Hart in the second period after he had allowed five goals on 14 shots.
New York overcame a 3-0 third-period deficit in their 4-3 shootout win against Elliott on Nov. 16.
Elliott played in two of the three games against the Islanders, but Hart, who was brilliant against Montreal with a 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage in the quarterfinal series, figures to get most of the starts in Round 2.
“We have to get some traffic, some scrums and some second chances and make it tough on him,” said Islanders center Brock Nelson, whose line, with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey, has combined for 11 goals and 26 points in the playoffs and will get lots of defensive attention from Sean Couturier’s unit.
The Flyers are “obviously a team that’s playing pretty well and won the No. 1 spot in that playoff round,” Isles left winger Anders Lee said. “It’s another tough match for us.”
Nelson said the regular-season games against the Flyers “were a long time ago and both teams are in different places in their play now.”
In the conference quarterfinals, the sixth-seeded Islanders dismantled third-seeded Washington in five games. The Capitals are a bigger team than the top-seeded Flyers, who bring something different to the table, Trotz said.
“They’re obviously not as top-heavy in terms of what you saw with Washington in the physicality they bring,” said Trotz, mentioning the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson. “But they have a good mix of size and skill, and they’re pretty deep in the forward position.”
Deep, but struggling down the offensive end, despite their postseason success.
The Flyers, who struggled past Montreal in a six-game quarterfinal, and Islanders are both 7-2 in the postseason.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and Trotz sounded as if they expected a long, hard-fought series.
“I think they’ve played as well as any team in our bubble here in Toronto,” Fletcher said about the Isles. “They’ve found their game very quickly. They play with purpose, structure and identity. They have some skill up front, too. They have three lines that can score. They’re really a good hockey team.”
Trotz said the Flyers have “good structure defensively, and they will be aggressive in the forecheck. They allow their D to get up in the play. They have a real good balance between the offensive part and the defensive part. They manage pucks pretty well and do all the things you need to do to have success in this league.”
Both teams have been among the NHL’s best defensive teams in the postseason, with the Islanders second (1.67 goals-against per game) and the Flyers third (1.78) in the league. But New York has a sizable advantage in goals scored over the Flyers (3.3 to 2.4) in the postseason, and Alain Vigneault’s team has managed just 25.4 shots per game, which is next to last among the 24 teams that have competed in the tournament.