Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even if it’s in hockey.
After just three playoff appearances over eight inconsistent seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers are the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed under first-year head coach Alain Vigneault — rolling out a deep, four-line team that has done most of its damage in the postseason behind an organized defense and a hot goalie.
Philadelphia’s gameplan is what head coach Barry Trotz implemented with the New York Islanders last season, transforming the franchise from a doormat in the East to a legitimate contender. After all, this is the second-straight season the Islanders are in the Eastern Conference semifinals as they kick off their series against Philadelphia on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports).
While the Islanders’ staunch defense limited the Washington Capitals in the first round, the Flyers rode their defense and the young Carter Hart in net to move past the bottom-seed Montreal Canadiens in six games.
In their four wins that series, the Flyers allowed just three goals, though they yielded five in each of their two losses. The only numbers that rival Hart’s in goal are that of Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, who has been superb over New York’s opening two series.
“Varly’s been exceptional. We played two pretty good offensive teams throughout his thing and we’ve gotten big saves from him when we needed him,” veteran forward Matt Martin said. “He’s a calming presence back there… We’re seeing him at his best right now and we’re going to need him to play the way he has been to have success.”
But Martin and the Islanders just won’t be relying on their netminder to win the duel against the superstar-in-the-making in Hart, who is just 22 years old.
“He’s obviously playing with confidence right now. Kid with high expectations coming in and performing and we want to try and get to him early,” Martin said. “He obviously doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience, but we have to expect that he’ll be good in there and we’ll have to make it as difficult as possible for him.”
“We just have to go out and try to get to our game first.”
On the offensive end of the Islanders’ game — which has been hit-or-miss during the Trotz era — that means getting in front of Hart, crashing the net, and creating chances from that during what is anticipated to be such an evenly-matched series.
“That’s the emphasis on every series and that will be the emphasis,” Trotz said. “Playoff hockey doesn’t give you much so you have to go to those hard areas to look for second chances or those little mistakes that can end up in the back of the net for you.”
Trotz mentioned that he had all of his players were available prior to Game 1, including Johnny Boychuk and the injured Cal Clutterbuck. Given the packed nature of the schedule that features four games in six days, the Islanders will make lineup changes accordingly to keep the team as fresh as possible.