The Philadelphia Flyers are down three games to one against the New York Islanders. We knew that the weekend back-to-back set was going to determine the tone of the series, and unfortunately it went in the Islanders’ direction.
The Flyers were still unable to put together a 60-minute (or even 40-minute) effort, they couldn’t convert on their chances, and the Islanders took advantage of some mistakes with timely goals.
We thought – or hoped – that things would be different against the Islanders. While both New York and Montreal play a defensive style, the Flyers should be able to control play more and therefore score more goals against the Islanders. Well, one of those things has been true. Despite their ability to control play and put pressure on the Islanders, the goals simply haven’t come.
Not only haven’t the goals come for the Flyers, but the Islanders have capitalized on what seems like every single one of their mistakes. Take Game 4 for example. The Flyers had several good scoring chances but couldn’t score with Thomas Greiss making a big save. Then, right after that, the Islanders took advantage of a mistake and came down the ice and scored. Not once, but twice. Those two goals in the third period were the difference in the game and quite possibly the series.
The Flyers may be down, but they’re not out.
In NHL history, teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series 29 times (including four 3-0 deficits). Two of those 29 teams – and two of the last three – were coached by Alain Vigneault.
In 2014, after beating the Flyers in seven games, the Rangers went on to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. They won Game 1 in overtime, but were shut out in Games 2 (3-0) and 3 (2-0) before suffering a 4-2 loss in Game 4.
But then they bounced back. They took down the Penguins 5-1 in Game 5, 3-1 in Game 6, and then a 2-1 nail-biter to win the series in Game 7.
In 2015, the Rangers handled the Penguins a bit easier with a first-round victory in five games. Then they fell behind 3-1 in the second round again, this time to the Washington Capitals.
This was a low-scoring series, with the Capitals winning Games 1 (2-1), 3 (1-0), and 4 (2-1). The Rangers tied the series up in Game 2 (3-2), just like the Flyers, before dropping the next two games. The rest of the series was extremely close with the Rangers winning by one goal in Games 5, 6, and 7, including 2-1 overtime wins in Games 5 and 7.
One of the big factors in both of those series was Henrik Lundqvist. He stopped 102 of 105 shots (.971 SV%) in the final three games against the Penguins, and 105 of 110 shots (.955 SV%) in the final three games against the Capitals.
That brings us to Carter Hart. Hart has been great for the Flyers in his first postseason. He is 7-4-0 with two shutouts and a .931 SV%. However, that save percentage is just .901 (82 saves on 91 shots) against the Islanders. If the Flyers are going to come back and win this series (or another game or two), Hart is going to need to be sharp. He should be fresh after Brian Elliott started Game 4, giving him a few days off before potentially playing three games in five nights.
If the Flyers are going to follow in the footsteps of Vigneault’s previous teams to overcome a 3-1 deficit, they’re going to need to continue to improve as the series moves along.
The Flyers started the series against the Islanders with a lackluster loss
They were able to control play after a bad first period, but they were unable to solve Semyon Varlamov. That was in part due to luck, but also due to their lack of quality scoring chances.
The Flyers out-attempted the Islanders 63-47, but the Islanders had more shots on goal (28-27), scoring chances (30-27), and high-danger chances (11-9). The game was closer than the 4-0 final score suggested (2.6-2.26 xG at 5v5), but the inability to find the back of the net was discouraging.
One of the most frustrating things in Game 1 was the performance of the Flyers’ best players. The top line struggled while the bottom-nine forwards were able to put some pressure on.
The Flyers came out strong in Game 2 with a dominant first period to take a 3-0 lead, but they let that slip away as their play declined. The Islanders forced overtime, and could have won the game on a late power play after a failed challenge, but the Flyers pulled it out with the top line creating the game-winner.
Games 3 and 4 really turned the tide in the series. The back-to-back set has put the Flyers behind the eight ball. They didn’t play all that great in Game 3, but they were finally able to control play. The Flyers had stretches where they looked similar to how they did late in the regular season. The orange and black controlled play to the tune of 62.38% CF (63-38 shot attempts) and 59.63 xGF%. They also outshot the Islanders 35-20 at 5v5. It ultimately didn’t matter, however, due to the Islanders capitalizing on the Flyers’ mistakes.
While the underlying stats and ability to control play didn’t help the Flyers in Game 4, it could be the difference in Game 5 (and potentially beyond). The Flyers seemed to figure out what works and what doesn’t against the Islanders in the offensive zone – at least for the second and third period.
Outshooting the Islanders 29-15 (17-3 in the second period) at 5v5 in the final two periods of Game 4 should give the Flyers some hope. They weren’t able to turn that into goals and a win, but it bodes well for them moving forward. If the Flyers are able to get a bounce here or there, convert on a chance or two, or minimize their mistakes – or all three! –, they’ll be able to win Game 5.
Finally, the elephant in the room is the play (or lack thereof) of the Flyers’ top players. The Flyers have scored seven goals in the series: two by Kevin Hayes and Sean Couturier, and one by Philippe Myers, Tyler Pitlick, and Ivan Provorov. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Travis Konecny have yet to score a goal, and only Giroux and Konecny have an assist.
If those guys can break through and find another gear to get back to their regular-season selves, this series could go seven.
The good news is that Game 4 was one of the best games of the playoffs for the top players. As a line, Giroux - Couturier - Voracek had a 80.77% CF (21-5) and 71.09% xGF (0.58-0.24), while outshooting the Islanders 10-2 and outscoring them 1-0.
If the top line can continue that style of play, they should be able to score a few goals and give the Flyers a chance.
It all starts tonight with Game 5.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick