Game Preview: Flyers vs. Islanders (Game 7)
There is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and then there is Game 7. Two completely different events.
The Philadelphia Flyers have forced a Game 7 after their 5-4 double overtime win against the New York Islanders. The game-winning goal came off of a long-range blast by Ivan Provorov, ending the game 15 minutes into double overtime. This was a back-and-forth game, even though the Islanders outshot the Flyers 53-31. Tonight will feature the third Game 7 in the 2020 playoffs as well as the third Game 7 in Islanders-Flyers playoff history (Philadelphia being winners of the first two).
Aside from the crazy action that took place on Thursday, Game 6 was also notable for the appearance of Oskar Lindblom, who played an NHL game for the first time since being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma: a rare form of bone cancer. Lindblom had not played since Dec. 7, 2019, but on Thursday, he played 17:30 worth of ice time. Lindblom, 24, is also a finalist for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
Having resilience is key to winning a playoff series. Each Stanley Cup champion in the past decade has had its back against the wall at some point in their run to the cup. Whether that would be losing a top player, trailing in a series, or being dead last in the NHL and coming back to win it, every Stanley Cup champion has shown resilience. Even without Sean Couturier, who sustained an injury in Game 5, the Flyers found a way to win. Resilience.
“We've been whacked and we were down 3-1 and we're still there,” Flyers head coach Alan Vigneault said to Brian Compton of NHL.com. “We gave ourselves a chance and we'll get ready for tomorrow and work hard and enjoy the moment.”
If the Islanders lose tonight, it would be the second time in Barry Trotz’s 21-year head coaching career that he let go a 3-1 series lead. He lost it in his first season with the Washington Capitals (2014-15) in the second round against Vigneault’s New York Rangers. The Islanders, meanwhile, have not been to the conference final since 1993.
"We've just got to go through a little adversity," Trotz told Tom Gulitti of NHL.com following Thursday’s loss. "One thing that you do as a team is you fight adversity and you grow. You grow as a group. So this is part of our process."
The Islanders have not faced a lot of adversity throughout the playoffs. They have yet to trail in a series, having defeated the Florida Panthers in the best-of-five qualifying round 3-1, then breezing by the Capitals 4-1 in the first round. Now, their season, and Philadelphia’s, is on the line.
In all likelihood, Game 7 will come down to fundamentals. For example, puck management, which has been terrible for both clubs. In Game 6, there were a combined 46 giveaways: 30 for Philadelphia and 16 for New York. Both teams have been able to capitalize on the other team's mistakes because they’ve been “too cute” with the puck. Instead, they’ll have to make short and quick passes as they go up the ice. Bad decisions with the puck led to the first two Flyers goals by Kevin Hayes (4) and James van Riemsdyk (2), then the tying Islanders goal by Matt Martin (4).
Speaking of Martin, his line has had such an impact throughout these playoffs. Martin plays on the fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Coming into this series, the fourth line had combined for four points. The same goes for the Flyers fourth line of Derek Grant, Nate Thompson and Tyler Pittlick, which entered this series with a combined five points. These kinds of lines are called energy lines, as they set the tone of a game by playing an aggressive forecheck, which causes the opposing defense to retreat back into its own zone. Needless to say, these lines have been doing more than what is asked of them.
Mathew Barzal will be another key factor. A game-time decision on Thursday, he did not show any signs of injury in Game 6, scoring a beautiful bar-down short-side snipe late in the second period to give the Islanders a 4-3 lead. The Flyers have to do a better job of containing him in order to win Game 7. They have to make sure he doesn’t generate speed. The Flyers defense cannot be flat-footed. Instead, it has to match the speed of Barzal and force him into the boards.
Both coaches have alluded to lineup changes, but they did not elaborate on what kinds of changes. Carter Hart is likely to start again for the Flyers, but Semyon Varlamov is questionable after back-to-back losses. Trotz may instead go with the 34-year-old Thomas Greiss. In two playoff games, he is 1-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.
The third Game 7 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs begins at 7:30 p.m. EST in Toronto. The winner of this game will move on to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s do or die. It’s all or nothing. It’s Game 7.
Jacob Cheris is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.