For the first time since 1993 the New York Islanders are headed to the Conference Finals.
Thanks to an absolutely dominant and clinical Game 7 defensive performance, the Islanders were 4-0 winners over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final where they will face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was a trio of surprising unsung heroes that helped deliver Saturday’s win.
Coach Barry Trotz made the bold decision to start his backup goalie, Thomas Greiss, after Semyon Varlamov struggled in Game 6 and was rewarded with an 16-save shutout, while defenseman Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene scored first period goals to help set the tone for the game.
Brock Nelson scored his seventh goal of the playoffs in the second period to put the game out of reach.
Anthony Beauvillier added an empty-net goal (his eighth goal of the playoffs) with six minutes to play in the third period.
But Greiss and the goal scorers were all secondary to the real story of this game, which was the way the Islanders completely shut down the Flyers’ offense. It was not just that the Flyers did not score a goal. They rarely posed a threat offensively and at times looked completely helpless in the face of the Islanders’ defensive pressure.
It is a trend that has played out in every series the Islanders have played this postseason where each of their three opponents (Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia) could not consistently generate any sort of an offensive push.
The Flyers’ offense was so bad — and the Islanders’ defense so good — that with under 10 minutes remaining in regulation, in a winner-take-all Game 7, they had managed just 11 total shots on goal.
The Islanders get an even bigger challenge in the next round when they face Tampa Bay.
Their series-clinching win on Saturday not only sends them to the Conference Final for the first time in 27 years, it also continues what has been an absolutely incredible postseason run. This is an Islanders team that finished the regular season on a seven-game losing streak, had lost 11 out of 13, and had been one of the league’s worst teams (not an exaggeration) from the end of November on. It was a team that was badly trending in the wrong direction at the absolute worst time of the season.
They have done a complete 180 during the NHL’s Return To Play.
Some hot goaltending (from both goalies), a structured attack led by Mathew Barzal and their top two lines, the return of a healthy Adam Pelech (one of their best defensive players), the trade deadline addition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau have been just some of the driving forces behind the turnaround.
Game 1: Islanders 4, Flyers 0 (recap)
Game 2: Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT) (recap)
Game 3: Islanders 3, Flyers 1 (recap)
Game 4: Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (recap)
Game 5: Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT) (recap)
Game 6: Flyers 5, Islanders 4 (2OT) (recap)
Game 7: Islanders 4, Flyers 0
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