TORONTO – The New York Islanders are moving on.
The Philadelphia Flyers are done.
Technically, the math will tell you the series is only 3-1 in favour of the Isles, but mentally, physically and emotionally the series is kaput.
Bet on it.
Double stamp it.
“In my opinion, that was the worst game we’ve played to this point in the playoffs,” said Isles coach Barry Trotz, following Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Flyers, a Game 4 win that brings his group within 60 minutes of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
A mediocre effort with their No. 2 goalie, Thomas Greiss, between the pipes and still the Islanders allowed just two goals against and conducted a rather clinical dismantling of the East’s No. 1 seed, becoming the first playoff team in either bubble to reach 10 wins.
“The way we’re playing right now, we just have to do the same thing over and over again every day,” Leo Komarov said, matter of fact.
From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.
Call them boring.
Call them predictable.
Call them suffocating, or safe, or simple.
But make sure to call them winners.
On Sunday night, during the sleepy half of their back-to-back, Trotz gave his backup goalie, Thomas Greiss, his first start in, oh, about five months, and the 34-year-old German responded by pitching a 36-save gem that now gives the Islanders three chances to advance to the Eastern Conference final in Edmonton.
The way the Islanders playing, and the way the Flyers are looking, they won’t need all three chances to drive the final nail in the coffin.
Round after round, New York has made its opposition’s elite forwards appear something less than. They’ve dictated the style and pace of play. They’ve committed to a game plan that works fabulously when all 18 skaters are in sync and well enough when everyone is not.
And yet, as high as the Islanders are flying — amassing a 10-3 record in the bubble and never trailing in all three series — Trotz is happy to temper expectations of the lowest-seeded squad poised to enter the final four.
“You don’t know how it’s gonna play out. Two years ago, I had the great fortune of standing on top of that hill,” Trotz said post-game, thinking back to his epic run with the 2018 Washington Capitals.
“On the way to that, we could’ve lost in the first round. We had to fight back and get a big second-round victory. Got up in third round by two games and lost three in a row, and we had to win the two to go the finals. We absolutely lose Game 1, and then we roll the next four games. So, it’s a journey, and you don’t know how the journey is going to go. You just gotta react to it. You got to forget what happened the night before.”
Trotz speaks often of a mindset.
“Pushing the right buttons is, to me, it’s being honest. It’s telling the player what you need from him, what you expect and can you get (it) done,” Trotz said. “Can you meet the expectations the coach and the group is asking of you?
“Honesty is always the best way.”
Honestly, it’s difficult to recall a group that has cut through this conference as quietly and convincingly as Trotz’s star-deprived Islanders have this month. Never have they trailed in a series.
Never have they blinked or quaked.
“There’s predictability in our game, which makes it a lot easier for us,” said defenceman Adam Pelech, calmly.
One never knows which Islander will rise to the occasion, but increasingly one knows that some Islander will.
On Sunday, it was second-line centre Josh Bailey scoring twice, including the eventual game-winner midway through the third period.
But it was also shrewd deadline pickup Jean-Gabriel Pageau sniping his seventh of this postseason and Greiss pitching a 36-save performance, giving stellar starter Semyon Varlamov some much needed rest.
Mostly, however, it was the Islander Way, which is very much becoming a thing in these playoffs.
Defend at all costs. Seize upon your opponent’s mistakes. Go over the top in the mental battle.
Running headfirst into the offence succubus that is the Islanders, the Flyers have been drained of all mojo.
Technically, they’re alive, but they already look, sound and feel like an exhausted, demoralized team ready to leave the bubble for good.
“Trying hard is not going to be good enough,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.
No, it’s not.
Not when you’re butting heads with the 2020 Islanders.