This was not a COVID coincidence. This was not a moral victory. This was real. These Flyers are real.
Ignore their 4-0 Game 7 dud. It should not define the past season or their incandescent future.
This was real goaltending by 22-year-old Carter Hart. Real grit from 23-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov. Real leadership from 32-year-old captain Claude Giroux and his chief lieutenant, Sean Couturier. Real discipline and defensive commitment from 31-year-old scorer Jake Voracek – a new trick for that old dog.
Giroux has two years left on his contract. The Flyers’ window will be open for at least that long. After a seven-game, second-round loss, that is real consolation.
“We like our team. We like the pieces we have,” said Giroux, who finally won a playoff series for the first time in eight years. “We’re going in the right direction.”
How do we know this is the right direction?
Because we saw real growth from a young core who were afforded no quarter by first-year coach Alain Vigneault. He challenged his Big Boys to wear their appropriate trousers not just after the Islanders took a three-games-to-one lead, but all season. Voracek and James van Riemsdyk are the second- and fourth-highest-paid players on the team. He didn’t care. He benched them both.
Hmm. Does AV coach basketball, too?
And can Chuck Fletcher maybe call Elton Brand? Fletcher signed forward Kevin Hayes, a do-it-all who immediately changed the dressing room from think-I-can to know-I-can — you know, everything forward Al Horford was supposed to do for Brand’s Sixers. Fletcher also traded for mature defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose presence did everything Josh Richardson, Brand’s trade prize, was supposed to do for the Sixers.
Fletcher and Vigneault made the Flyers into the best team in the East when the coronavirus shut down sports in March, and they delivered them to the Toronto bubble as the same entity, and they earned the No 1 seed fair and square. They lost in seven games in the second round to a team they hadn’t beaten in three games during the regular season – a bad matchup on every level, obvious in each game, all of which the Islanders dominated.
It was a necessary learning experience.
The game ended, for all intents, when Giroux turned over the puck in the Islanders’ end, Provorov fell, and Voracek failed to get back in time to prevent Josh Bailey from running a 2-on-1 that Brock Nelson stuffed home for a 3-0 lead with half a game left to play in the Flyers’ season. It was the Islanders’ 18th shot, more than double the Flyers’ eight.
It felt like more.
The teams spent the last minute of the second period in the Flyers’ end skating through what appeared to be an Islanders power play, the Flyers content to cover up and wait for the horn.
They were dead-legged. Spent. They didn’t just lose battles on the boards and in the corners; they often didn’t engage. It was understandable.
They’d needed overtime twice to prevent elimination. Effectively, they had already played two Game Sevens to force the real one. They looked like it.
Travis Konecny, a first-time All Star and the team’s leading scorer, now knows the burden Giroux has borne since his breakout 2010 playoffs: It’s tough to be a marked little man in the postseason. He didn’t score. Konecny, 23, will either adjust, or he will not. Don’t bet against TK.
So many more of them know what this is all about.
Not just Konecny, but also defensemen Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg. Their playoff experience had consisted of a six-game field trip with the Penguins, who toyed with them for two weeks in 2018. And Hart, of course, whose first full season made him a star.
It was more than just a matter of the Islanders playing with more speed and power than the Flyers, which happened about 80 percent of the time. It seemed like every bounce of every puck on the sketchy ice at Scotiabank Arena.
Maybe that was an illusion. Maybe that wasn’t real.