Flyers coach Alain Vigneault set himself up for some second-guessing by starting Brian Elliott in goal on Sunday night and keeping Carter Hart on the bench. Earlier in the day, Vigneault had called Game 4 the most important game of the Flyers’ season, and Hart had started all nine games for them since the end of the round robin and been excellent in most of them.
But Elliott was excellent, too; he wasn’t the reason the Flyers lost Game 4. In fact, from beginning to end, they played better Sunday night than they had in any game since the round robin. They outshot the Islanders in the second period, 17-3. But Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss was really good, and the Flyers are up against a team that was well constructed (with some key trade-deadline acquisitions) by general manager Lou Lamoriello and that is well coached by Barry Trotz. The Flyers peaked early in the Toronto bubble, and the Islanders deserve the three-games-to-one lead they hold ahead of Tuesday’s Game 5.
Two years ago, the Islanders’ best player was one of the NHL’s best players: John Tavares. They lost him in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2018. Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series with Tavares; the Leafs, in fact, haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. And here the Islanders are, on the cusp of their first berth in the conference finals since 1993.
... The failed clear attempt by Phil Myers that led to Brock Nelson’s goal in the second period? While moving backward, Myers tried to flip the puck high out of the Flyers’ defensive zone, but the Islanders intercepted it at the blue line. A bad mistake for a promising young player.
... Claude Giroux’s reaction to the glove save that Greiss made on him late in the second period? Giroux put both hands on his head in frustration. It’s no wonder why. He entered Game 4 without a goal in this postseason and with just one goal in his last 25 playoff games.
More than eight months after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, Oskar Lindblom joined his teammates for their pregame warm-up skate Sunday night. Though Vigneault didn’t insert Lindblom into the lineup, it was a heartening, inspiring sight to see. It also served as a reminder of what, from a pure hockey standpoint, the Flyers lost when Lindblom got sick. At the time, he led them in goals, with 11, and given how much some of their top players had struggled during this postseason, they certainly could have used a forward of his quality and skill set.
If NBC analyst and former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher used the phrase “low to high” once Sunday night, he used it a hundred times. He was making a sound point: that the Flyers needed to work the puck from behind the Islanders’ net to their defensemen to generate offense. But it just got me thinking that he might just be a Black Keys fan: