A longer-than-usual season that started in Europe, featured vast improvement from last year, and their first playoff-series victory since 2012 ended for the gallant Flyers on Saturday night.
It ended just like the last 44 seasons.
Without a Stanley Cup.
After consecutive overtime wins, the Flyers went out with a whimper, dropping a 4-0 decision to the relentless New York Islanders at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and losing the Eastern Conference semifinal, four games to three.
The Islanders got three points from Brock Nelson and a shutout from rarely tested Thomas Greiss (16 saves) as they advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1993. They will face well-rested Tampa Bay in Edmonton and will try to continue the momentum built from series wins against Florida, Washington, and the Flyers.
The series against the top-seeded Flyers was, by far, their toughest. But the sixth-seeded Islanders’ stars badly outplayed the Flyers’ big guns, and Philadelphia’s power play was 0 for 13 in the highly physical series.
“Give credit where credit is due,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the Islanders. “They played a real strong game tonight in all areas – puck battles, making plays with the puck, defending.”
The Flyers, co-favorites to win the Stanley Cup by many sports books when the playoffs started, went 10-6 in the postseason, which began with a three-game sweep in the round-robin tournament, followed by a six-game victory over Montreal in the conference quarterfinals.
They got inspiration from Oskar Lindblom’s return to the lineup in Game 6 Thursday and, despite playing without injured star Sean Couturier, gutted out a 5-4 double-overtime win, their third overtime victory of the series.
Couturier returned to the lineup Saturday, but didn’t look like himself and was replaced on the top line in the final period.
“Tonight I felt good enough to go,” said Couturier, who revealed he missed Game 6 because of a sprained MCL. “Pretty much the same injury I had two years ago.”
The Islanders added an empty-net goal by Anthony Beauvillier.
“We didn’t create enough,” Couturier said after the Flyers were blanked in a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history. “We didn’t win enough one-on-one battles to get our chances.”
The Flyers nearly got to within 2-1, but Claude Giroux’s deflection of Phil Myers’ shot deflected off the post — the second time his team hit iron in the game — with 18:37 left in the second period.
It would be their last legitimate chance to get that close to the Islanders.
The Isles continued to push the pace, continued to get odd-man rushes. Only Carter Hart’s strong goaltending kept them within 2-0.
New York extended its lead to 3-0 as Nelson finished a two-on-one with Josh Bailey with 8:34 to go in the second. Nelson started the rush by taking the puck away from Giroux in the Flyers’ offensive end.
Greiss, the Islanders’ backup goalie who was making his second start of the series — and first of his career in a Game 7 — was rarely tested in the first two periods. But he made a big stop on Kevin Hayes’ point-blank attempt with about five minutes remaining in the second. Oskar Lindblom was moved from the second to fourth line and helped set up Hayes’ chance.
Earlier, the Flyers created three quality chances in the game’s first 6:22.
But Greiss watched Jake Voracek’s deflection hit the post, and he later stopped a Giroux tip-in attempt. Giroux fired wide on another chance, this one from the right circle.
The Flyers had the territorial advantage in the first nine-plus minutes, but after they again squandered a power play — making them 0-for-12 in the series — the Islanders took over the momentum. And the lead.
They scored on their first good chance as defenseman Scott Mayfield, whose broken stick a led to the Flyers’ overtime winner in Game 6, put a well-placed, right-circle shot into the left corner 10:33 left in the first.
It was the first goal for Mayfield in 26 career playoff games and first in 40 games overall.
“I liked our first six minutes tonight,” Vigneault said, “ ... and then after they scored that first goal, we never had that same bounce or the same pop.”
Less than four minutes after Mayfield’s goal, veteran Andy Greene, another defenseman, made it 2-0 with a quick wrist shot from the left circle. Greene took a great feed from Derick Brassard, who was in the right circle, and beat Hart (22 saves). The 22-year-old goaltender had been focused on the other side of the ice and made a futile diving attempt.
“I’m playing the shot,” said Hart, who thought Brassard was going to fire at the goal. “He passes it backdoor through some sticks and traffic.”
Voracek appeared slow on his coverage, enabling Greene to pinch and get deep into the left circle before scoring.
Giroux, 32, was asked if falling behind in the series, three games to one, and having to expend a lot of energy to win Games 5 and 6 took a lot out of the team, which looked out of gas for most of Saturday’s game.
He said it had more to do with the Islanders.
“They’re a really responsible team, and the way they play the game, they’re really strict with their system,” he said. “I think early on we had some chances, and after that they were able to get a few goals, and we were playing catch-up hockey.”
Not a good way to play against such a defensively sound team as the Isles.