Islanders coach Barry Trotz said his team played its worst game of the postseason Sunday night in Toronto.
It speaks volumes, then, that the sixth-seeded Isles were still able to defeat the top-seeded Flyers, 3-2, and take a stranglehold on their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
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New York has a three-games-to-one lead in the series, which it can wrap up Tuesday night at 7.
The Islanders were badly outshot over the last two periods (31-15), but they were also opportunistic, scoring three goals after mistakes by Flyers defensemen — two by veteran Matt Niskanen, the other by rookie Phil Myers.
Including the regular season, the Islanders have won six of seven games against the Flyers. The Isles had nine fewer points than the Flyers in the regular season, but they have frustrated Philadelphia with their forecheck, their timely goals, their trademark defense, and their strong goaltending.
On Sunday, they handed the Flyers their first two-game losing streak since early January.
“The Islanders are a good team, like I’ve mentioned several times,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said in a Zoom call with reporters Monday from Toronto. “They play a good game, a tough game to play against. That being said, I don’t think we can play a lot harder than we did [Sunday]. I do believe we have more finish around their net than what we’ve shown. I believe we’ve got the skill level as far as offensive capabilities to be able to finish on some of the looks we’re getting.”
In franchise history, the Flyers are just 1-17 in series in which they have lost three of the first four games. In NHL history, only 9.3% of 313 teams have won a series when staring at a three-games-to-one deficit.
“At the end of the day right now, probably not a lot of people are going to give us a chance,” Vigneault said. “What we have to do is not focus on the big task, but focus on [Tuesday]. That game, that night. Bring it in. Let’s find a way to win that game. If we score two and we have to win 2-1, then that’s it. We’ve got to find a way.”
The Flyers have managed just three goals, total, in their three series losses.
“We just need a little bit more finish,” said Vigneault, mindful that two of his best forwards, Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny, have zero goals in 13 postseason games this summer. “I believe we do have the skill level to get it done.”
The Flyers’ goalies haven’t played poorly — Brian Elliott was very good Sunday — but the Islanders’ goaltenders have been better. Ditto their top forwards.
When Vigneault coached the New York Rangers, two of his teams overcame three-games-to-one deficits and won conference semifinals in both 2014 (vs. Pittsburgh) and 2015 (vs. Washington). Vigneault said he will stress to the Flyers what he did to those Rangers teams — to just look at Tuesday’s game and not the big picture.
“This is a great opportunity, I think, for our leadership group to change the narrative, change their legacy here,” he said.
And, so, what can the Flyers do to regain their footing in the series?
“Just got to keep going to the net,” Konecny said. “That’s usually where the goals are scored, around the blue paint. I think the big thing, too, is getting in front of the goalie’s eyes. We’ve been preaching that a lot. Cootsy [Sean Couturier] did it and scored a big goal for us [Sunday]. The results, they’re right there for us. It’s just a matter of getting a couple more bounces.”
Added Konecny: “We’ve been playing not a full 60 minutes, but playing hard and dominating certain parts of the game. We’ve just got to keep going to the net. Keep believing in each other. Things will happen for us.”