Islanders fans can party like it's 1993 after beating Flyers to reach Eastern Conference finals
The job is not done. The object of the quest requires eight more victories, and nothing short of that will be fully satisfying.
But save such thoughts for Monday, when the Islanders open the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Edmonton.
For the moment, feel free to party like it’s 1993.
The Islanders deserve it.
Their fans deserve it even more.
Saturday night’s 4-0 victory over the Flyers in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series advanced them to the NHL final four for the first time in 27 years, and a big step closer to their first Stanley Cup in 37 years.
But the degree of difficulty was even greater than in most seasons. Getting there required 11 victories, including a qualifying round added in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a stay of six weeks in the Toronto “bubble.”
The victory over Philadelphia earned the Islanders some new scenery in Western Canada and a new, more formidable opponent in Tampa Bay. But again, that’s a concern for Monday. On Saturday, it was time to savor the moment.
The Islanders earned it, generally playing like the better team over the course of the series. They were 4-0-3 in regulation time, suffering all three losses in overtime.
It was an impressive feat by a team that entered the COVID-19 pause in a slump and entered the second round as the lowest remaining seed in the league after eliminating the Panthers and Capitals. The Islanders began the qualifying round as the seventh seed and the Flyers were the top seed in the conference.
Coach Barry Trotz said that even though there still are two more hurdles to overcome en route to a Cup, he wanted his team to enjoy this.
“You have to celebrate the moments, because those moments don’t come by very much,” he said. “I don’t mean go crazy or anything. I think you recognize and understand you took another step. There’s a bit of a celebration, but we understand we’re [only] halfway.”
Even before the game, Trotz had told his players to enjoy the evening and stay loose.
“I just told them Game 7, it sounds like a scary thing: It’s Game 7,” he said. “I just told them, ‘Go have fun. Have fun and enjoy it. Game 7s are rare.’ ”
Andy Greene, who scored the game’s second goal, said of the scene in the winning locker room, “We were fired up. I’m not going to lie. Big game, big Game 7. We played really well and we finished the series out. It was exciting. We earned it.”
Brock Nelson, who scored the third goal, said, “This one’s nice.”
The Islanders jumped on the Flyers early, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission with Thomas Greiss in goal in place of Semyon Varlamov, who lost Games 5 and 6.
It was a tough, bold decision for Trotz, but it worked, as most of his decisions have lately. Greiss won both of his starts in the series and nearly helped the Islanders recover to win after an early 3-0 deficit in Game 2.
Even though Trotz won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, this is only the second time he has advanced past the second playoff round in his long career.
His next coaching matchup will be against the Lightning’s Jon Cooper, a former Hofstra lacrosse player.
The fact that the first two goals came from unlikely sources in defensemen Scott Mayfield and Greene was in keeping with what Trotz said before the game, that without elite snipers on which to rely, the offense needs contributions from everywhere.
“We’re built more as a four-line team where everybody has to contribute or we can’t have success,” he said. “That’s how we’re built right now, and our guys accept that and they’re real close.”
He added, “You don’t know who it’s going to be, but there’s going to be a hero tonight, no question.”
As is often the case, the Islanders had an answer to that question: It was everyone.