Contrary to Billy Joel’s fortunes in his hit, ‘Downeaster Alexa’, there is some island left for Islanders like (w)e.
The New York Islanders are off the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 23 years after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers emphatically, 4-0, in Game 7 of their second-round series Saturday night.
They will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference finals, moving from Toronto to the Edmonton bubble, where Game 1 will begin on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET.
Their Game 7 performance saved their postseason, which fell under pressure after they nearly blew a 3-1 series lead, conceding Games 5 and 6 to the Flyers to set up the winner-take-all affair. While those previous games were high-tension affairs, Saturday night’s Game 7 was never in doubt as the Islanders dominated following a major tweak in goal.
Thomas Greiss pitched a shutout after taking over for Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders starting goalie, stopping all 16 shots he faced behind the trademark New York defense in his first-career Game 7 start.
It was the headlining adjustment of head coach Barry Trotz’s tweaks, which worked perfectly. And the effects were immediate.
The Islanders flipped the script in Game 7, getting off to the hot start in an opening period the Flyers so often dominated throughout the series.
After scoring just two goals in the first period in their opening six games, the Islanders potted two in the first 20 minutes to take an early lead.
“You have to go through adversity to grow as a group,” Trotz said. “We haven’t had a lot of adversity through the playoffs. We’ve been able to get things done fairly efficiently. I thought from a standpoint, this was a part of the growing aspect.”
Defenseman Scott Mayfield scored the first playoff goal of his career 9:27 into the first when pinpoint puck movement found him wide open at the point on the right-wing, where he listed down toward the circle to snipe a wrister off the opposite shoulder of Carter Hart, off the post, and into the back of the net.
It was ultimate redemption for Mayfield, whose broken stick in double overtime in Game 6 directly led to the Flyers’ game-winning goal.
“I was down a few days after breaking my stick in overtime. That was a confidence boost,” Mayfield said. “Nobody thought I’d be scoring it.”
Less than four minutes later, with 6:48 left in the period, Andy Green doubled the Islanders’ lead with his second goal of the series. He had the easiest job to do, though, slotting a wrister into a wide-open net after a perfect cross-ice pass from the right-wing by Derick Brassard found the veteran defenseman with ease — and Hart completely out of position.
The Islanders would nab a third behind their stellar second line, which had been their best unit all postseason. After lifting Claude Giroux’s stick just before he unleashed a wrister, Brock Nelson sparked an Islanders rush that ended with him on a 2-on-1 with Josh Bailey, who has been New York’s assisting virtuoso.
Coming in on Hart, Bailey sent a perfect pass to Nelson at the left post, who sent home an easy wrister.
“Whenever you have a lead, you can’t sit back,” Nelson said. “Greiss made a couple big stops to keep it at zero… To get that one, it definitely gives you a little more of a cushion… We played a pretty good game today.”
The helper was Bailey’s 14th of the postseason, which is the most in a single playoff by an Islanders player since 1983 (Bob Bourne, 20).
The Islanders’ defense remained as staunch as ever, repelling Philadelphia pressure to keep Greiss’ crease rather clear under such desperate circumstances.
“It’s just fun. I’m happy that the team advances,” Greiss said. “It’s a huge win for us. It’s unreal how the guys played.”
In a rash move to try and get his team back in the game, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault pulled his goalie with nearly seven minutes remaining, but it only helped the Islanders pad their lead. With 6:18 left, Bailey picked up his second assist of the night by wheeling a backhander under pressure in the Islanders’ zone up to Anthony Beauvillier, who flew down the right-wing and slotted a backhander into the empty net.
“I just told them Game 7, it might sound like a scary thing,” Trotz said. “I just told them to go have fun and enjoy it. Game 7s are rare… do something special today with the guy next to you and do it for the families and just get it done… Play Islander hockey.”
They did, and they’re now one round away from the Stanley Cup Final.