Well, all good things must come to an end. After dispatching the Montreal Canadians in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers were slated to play the New York Islanders in what was set to be another tough defensive series. The Flyers struggled to play their style of hockey against the Canadians and unfortunately they never really got the opportunity to find it against the Islanders. The Islanders dominated for long stretches of time and looked like they were about the finish off the Flyers in 5 games, but the Flyers showed that they still had some fight in them and won games 5 and 6 in overtime to force a game 7. The Islanders would not be denied though and held the Flyers to just 16 shots as they won game 7 by a score of 4 to 0. The Islanders must now face the juggernaut Tampa Bay lighting and the Flyers will exit the bubble and return home to pick up the pieces of what was an unprecedented season full of highs, lows, and challenges. Lets break down the best and worst of the first Islanders and Flyers match up since 1987.
When most of your top 6 forwards were having a hard time scoring or making an impact in the series, it was nice to see the $50 million dollar man make as much of an impact as he could. Kevin Hayes showed up on the score sheet with a few goals in key games that the Flyers won and was a solid on defense at 5 on 5 and on the penalty kill. In a series where there wasn’t a lot to like about the Flyers, there was a lot to like about the play of Kevin Hayes.
When the Flyers found themselves down 1 to 0 in the series after being shut out in game 1, Kevin Hayes made sure that the Flyers wouldn’t be blanked again by opening up the scoring just 2 minutes into the game. The Flyers were moving up the ice on an odd man rush and Kevin Hayes found himself with the puck and plenty of space to work with. Hayes then shot the puck in the upper corner where Varlamov couldn’t get to it and the Flyers found themselves with an early lead. Later in the same period, Hayes used his body and skill to take the puck from Ryan Pulock, create a two on one situation near the front of the net, and scored by shooting the puck in between the goal and Varlamov where there wasn’t much space available to sneak the puck through. These two goals showed off the skill that Hayes can bring to the Flyers lineup and Hayes was able to use his size to create opportunities against the Islanders who do not give up many odd man rushes or make many mistakes due to their tight defensive style of play. Kevin Hayes set the tone for the period and the game by making sure the Flyers would not let the Flyers get shut out and provided a much needed jolt to a Flyers offense that was looking anemic since the start of the playoffs.
Hayes was the reason the Flyers were able to force a game 7 against the Islanders by scoring the opening goal and setting up the game winning goal from Ivan Provorov in game 6 of the series. Hayes was able to capitalize on a turnover by the Islanders about halfway through the period when he intercepted a breakout pass from Islanders captain Anders Lee and skated right back into the Islanders zone along with Travis Konecny and Robert Hagg to create an odd man rush. With Hagg going to the net, Hayes was able to get open on the left side of the ice where he received a pass from Konecny and shot it right past Varlamov to open up the scoring. In what ended up being a back and forth type of game, Hayes was able to get the Flyers on the board early and make sure the Flyers wouldn’t suffer a lapse in energy against a defensive team like the Islanders. Hayes was also responsible for setting up Ivan Provorov for the game winning goal in overtime when he capitalized on a broken stick by defenseman Scott Mayfield. Mayfield broke his stick attempting a shot from the point and Kevin Hayes immediately took the puck up ice. What Hayes did next showed off his high hockey IQ and helped the Flyers seal the victory for themselves. Hayes carried the puck into the Islanders zone and instead of driving right to the net and shooting the puck, Hayes skated around the outside of Mayfield and took the puck to the side of the net where it looked like he was going to either shoot the puck from an odd angle or pass the puck to Michael Raffl, who was battling in front of the net looking for a tap in goal. Instead, Hayes passed the puck to the middle of the ice and in the direction of Ivan Provorov who was coming into the zone from the Flyers bench. Provorov had a lot of open ice and bodies in front of the net, so he was able shoot the puck without Varlamov being able to track it and scoring the game winning goal in overtime. Hayes made a heads up play by not shooting the puck where Varalmov would be able to make a play on it and instead making a beautiful pass to the trailing Provorov for a high danger chance.
Kevin Hayes was able to make an impact on this series in two crucial games for the Flyers and was solid on the penalty kill when the Flyers were exhausted and taking foolish penalties. There weren’t many players who had a good series against the Islanders, but make no mistake, Kevin Hayes was one of the few ones who helped push the Flyers to within one game of the eastern Conference Finals.
Flyer of the series: Kevin Hayes
Once again Ivan Provorov showed that he is a legitimate number 1 defenseman in the NHL. Provorov was able to stabilize the Flyers defense and play long tough minutes against a very physical Islanders team.Provorov seemed to be in all the right places and was able to make plays against the toughest lines that the Islanders had to throw out there. Plus Provorov had to make up for the play of Matt Niskanen, who did not have a great series against the Islanders or the Canadians. It’s gotta feel great to know that Provorov is only 23 years old and is playing at such a high level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While Hart posted back to back shut out against the Canadians, I actually thought Hart had a better series against the islanders than he did against the Canadians. Hart had to make so many high danger and point blank saves that he was one of the only reasons that the Flyers didn’t get swept in this series. Hart was able to make so many crucial saves, like the breakaway save in overtime in game 6, and he was calm and cool under the pressure of multiple overtime games. Hart was able to steady the ship when the Flyers were getting outplayed by the Islanders and made sure the Flyers weren’t out of games, so that they could force and win games in overtime. Unfortunately, Hart was a but shaky in game 7, but you can’t expect him to be perfect and make that many saves after bailing your team out the entire series.
The Flyers inability to sustain pressure
Our worst fears as Flyers fans became reality from the moment that the Flyers started playing the Islanders in period 1 of game 1 of this series….the same Flyers that struggled to dominate play and score in the Canadians series were the same Flyers that were playing against the Islanders. Like the Canadians series, the Flyers were being dominated this entire series for long stretches of play in every game in the series. Don’t get me wrong here. The Flyers did look good in certain periods or for brief periods of time, but there were multiple examples of the Islanders just controlling play and suffocating the Flyers opportunities and chances in this series. Let’s look at the games.
In game 1 of the series, the Flyers were shut out by Varlamov and didn’t look like they could penetrate the tough defensive system the Islanders play. The game was only 1 to 0 going into the third, but the Islanders seemed to have the puck for the entire period and ended up scoring 3 more goals in the period. Granted the Islanders are the best third period team since the NHL resumed play, but that’s not an excuse when one of the most notable things about this Flyers team this season was how they would start slow in period 1 and dominate teams in period 3. They Flyers didn’t even look competitive in game 1. The same type of dominance could be seen in games 3 and 4 of this series where the Islanders controlled the pace of play and kept all of the Flyers scoring chances to the outside where Varlamov could make an easy save or prevent a rebound from coming out in front. Anytime the Flyers entered the zone or got near the slot, the Islanders would congregate and prevent the puck carrier from making a pass to the net or prevent them from getting a clean shot towards the net. The box scores of these games make it look a lot closer than what it actually was. Just think back to how the fan base felt after game 4 of this series. The fans were ready for the Islanders to finish off the Flyers in 5 games and send us into the off season wondering what happened to all of our scoring.
Luckily for us, the Flyers showed what kind of resolve this team has by battling back in games 5 and 6 to win those respective games in overtime. Unlucky for Flyers fans was the fact that the Flyers could only manage to put some pressure on the Islanders for brief periods of time before the Islanders would inevitably take control back from the Flyers and capitalize on their opportunities. Let’s look at the two overtime games that the Flyers did win. In game 5, the Flyers dominated the 2nd period of the game and used their sustained pressured to get two goals from Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. The Flyers even controlled play for the first half of the 3rd period and Matt Niskanen scored a goal to put the Flyers up 3 to 1 with about 10 minutes to go in the game. The what happened? The Flyers were unable to sustain their pressure like they had done to opponents during the regular season and the Islanders dominated play. The Islanders used puck control and their tight defensive system to prevent the Flyers from getting out of their own zone, which resulted in two bad giveaways and two bad goals to tie the game up and send it into overtime. How about game 6? Play was about even in the first period and the Flyers even had the lead after 1 period of play, but then the Islanders just dominated the entire second period from a possession perspective, which lead to the Flyers to allow Matt Barzal to stand in their own net and catch a puck for a goal that went in off of his body. Granted head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t help the team by challenging the goal and putting his team on the penalty kill, but even on the penalty kill (which the Flyers were good at during the regular season) the Islanders controlled play and scored a goal to put the Islanders up 4 to 3. Three goals were allowed in the second period after the Flyers were unable to sustain pressure and keep the Islanders from putting the puck in the back of the Flyers net. Not to mention that the Flyers let the Islanders have 53 shots on goal during game 6…talk about being dominated.
The caveat to all of these overtime games in this series was that when the Flyers did sustain pressure, they did it when they had to and scored all three overtime goals to force a game seven. But speaking of pressure, game seven is one of the biggest tests of physical and mental fortitude and any time of mistake could be the difference between victory and defeat. The Flyers, like in game 1 of the series, were dominated throughout most of the game and the Islanders squeezed the life out of the Flyers. The Flyers actually controlled play for the first ten minutes of this game, but failed to capitalize on their opportunities. The Islanders then made the theme of this series a reality and dominated the Flyers for the rest of the game. The Flyers never really had any dangerous chances and only resisted 16 shots on Thomas Greiss. It was one of the most deflating and lifeless performances I have seen out of the Flyers in quite some time, but this game was the personification of this series as a whole. The Flyers putting pressure on the Islanders for short periods of time and the Islanders coming back and dominating the rest of the game to capitalize on their opportunities and the Flyers mistakes. To put it another way, the Flyers were like a small animal trapped in the grip of a boa constrictor… slowly tightening its grip on its prey until the prey could no longer fight back and succumb to the inevitable.
Worst Flyer of the Series: Travis Sanheim
Really? This is what they are gonna let happen in this series? They are gonna let lifelong New Jersey Devil and 37 year old Andy Greene score two goals in this series? Greene only had 2 goals in 52 games this entire season and you let him match that total in a 7 game playoff series?! I should have known how this series was gonna go when I saw Andy Greene score the opening goal of the entire series in game 1. Such a disgrace…
The Islanders 4th line
A lot of beat writers and national pundits say that the Islanders have one of if not the best 4th line in hockey…and they showed why during this series. The line of Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck was physical and nasty throughout the entire series. They scored in what seemed like every game and were physical throughout, not giving he Flyers any time to pass the puck and punishing them if they couldn’t pass it in time. The worst part about this line was that in order to get his top line going, Alain Vigneault put his top line of Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek against the Islanders 4th line in an attempt to have them generate some offense, but this 4th line ended up controlling most of the play and kept the top line off the scoreboard for the most part this entire series. I’d say that might make them one of the best 4th lines in hockey.
What did you think? Agree or disagree with either of my selections? Did I exclude a game or player you thought should have made the list? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @snapp1eapp1e
Photo Credit: NHL.com