Islanders coach Barry Trotz was standing outside the coaches’ room Thursday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena when he saw 30 or 40 players gathered from the four conference semifinalists. They were discussing their decision not to play Thursday or Friday’s scheduled playoff games, a move made in protest of racial injustice in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Wisconsin.
“Maybe the night before, they would have been on the ice, going nose to nose,” said Trotz, whose team will face the Flyers in Game 3 of their series Saturday night. Instead, “they were trying to come up with solutions and … being very supportive. When you look back at that, those are powerful moments.”
Flyers forward Scott Laughton said that Thursday was productive because of how the players from all four teams interacted and talked about the situation. “We had some great conversations,” he said.
Claude Giroux, the Flyers’ longtime captain, was asked what impact he thought the league would make by postponing games and showing solidarity.
“We know it’s not going to solve everything tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a process. For me, it’s just getting conversations with everybody. The last six months, I’ve had great conversations with my teammates and with my wife. Just kind of educate yourself and know a little more. When the NBA took a stand, we all respected that. We wanted to stand with them.”
“These are really rough times now,” Islanders winger Matt Martin said “We just want everyone to feel included, to feel safe,” no matter what their skin color.”
The Flyers and Islanders will be trying to snap a 1-1 series deadlock when they meet at 7 p.m. Saturday. Game 5 is 8 p.m. Sunday.
The teams were originally scheduled to play Game 3 on Thursday night.
The Flyers blew a 3-0 lead Wednesday in Game 2, then won it with a dominating overtime shift, culminating with Phil Myers’ game-winning goal.
Will their momentum still be there Saturday?
“Each game obviously presents a unique and different challenge,” Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “Obviously we’re all professionals here. When the games come and we arrive at the rink, we’re ready to go. We’re ready to put forth all our effort, attention, and energy into playing the game and having a good result.”
“From a hockey standpoint, the game is going to be just as intense,” Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “It doesn’t change anything. We’re pro athletes. We go out there to win.”
Flyers defesneman Matt Niskanen said the Flyers began to talk about making a statement to sit out the next game after they boarded the team bus following their thrilling victory Wednesday afternoon.
“We just had a big win. Guys first get on their phones usually when they get to the bus and a lot of times conversations happen there,” he said. “That was the first time the news of the NBA [postponing games] came to our attention. Obviously, things progressed from there, over dinner and into the next day.”
With four teams in the Toronto bubble, it was “way easier to have more of these dialogues within bigger groups,” van Riemsdyk said. “I would think yesterday morning and into early afternoon, a lot of these conversations were being had. There’s probably 45 guys here kind of talking together. Obviously we were on the phone with guys from the Edmonton bubble and guys from the Hockey Diversity Alliance, too.”
Van Riemsdyk, 31, has been in and out of the lineup during the postseason, and it is not known if he will play Saturday.
“At this time of the year, it’s all about the team’s success,” said van Riemsdyk, who had 19 goals in 66 regular-season games but is without a point in seven postseason contests. “We’re trying to win games. We have a team goal of winning a championship. Certainly you want to play every game and it sucks when you don’t get a chance to go out there and try to contribute. That being said, it’s all about the team right now.”
Added van Riemsdyk: “You work hard in practice. You try to make the most of your opportunities when you get back in the lineup. That’s pretty much what I’m focusing on. All the rest is just white noise.”