The Flyers haven’t lost consecutive games since early January and Islanders coach Barry Trotz sure sounded concerned that streak of consistency would continue in Wednesday afternoon’s Game 2 of the team’s second-round series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
“I didn’t care for our game,” Trotz said of Monday night’s 4-0 win in the series opener. “I liked our first period. After that, we were average. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Neither team practiced on Tuesday in advance of the first set of back-to-back games in this best-of-seven series. Game 3 is Thursday night.
“We just need to be sharp,” Islanders right wing Leo Komarov said. “Take it day by day and go from there. It’s nice to play games rather than sit at a hotel.”
Still, both Trotz and Flyers counterpart Alain Vigneault said the series can quickly change dramatically.
Trotz was concerned how easily the Flyers swiped the momentum the Islanders built in the first period as the Islanders needed 15 second-period saves from Semyon Varlamov to preserve a one-goal lead. Varlamov has back-to-back shutouts, including a 4-0 win over the Capitals in Game 5 and his playoff scoreless streak of 136:20 is just shy of Billy Smith’s franchise record of 136:59.
But Vigneault repeated on Tuesday he “didn’t think it was a 4-0 game,” insisting it was two third-period mistakes – getting outworked by Komarov’s forecheck on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s goal to make it 2-0 and a defensive lapse to allow a three-on-two rush on captain Anders Lee’s subsequent goal – that blow open an otherwise tightly played game.
“We know exactly what to expect from the Islanders,” Vigneault said. “We’ve got to be willing to take a hit to make a play with the puck. Our guys have always bounced back. [Wednesday] will obviously be a big test of that.”
The Flyers have been bouncing back with consistency since concluding a 1-4-1 road trip with a 5-4 overtime loss at Carolina on Jan. 7.
But they have not been scoring with consistency since NHL resumed play on Aug. 1 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the regular season to be halted on March 12.
The Flyers were outscored, 13-11, in their six-game win over the Canadiens in the first round.
Vigneault said he was not happy with how top-line forwards Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek handled the puck in Game 1.
“They’re our top-end guys,” Vigneault said. “We need them to be on top of their game both defensively and offensively. Not just them. I expect our whole group [Wednesday] to be better.”
Flyers captain Claude Giroux has yet to score a goal in 10 postseason games and leading scorer Travis Konecny has just three assists in that span despite several good looks at the Islanders’ net in Game 1.
“The first period was probably the worst period we’ve had since we were in the bubble,” Giroux said after Game 1. “The top players have got to play better. I’m obviously one of them.”
“I believe if we get the looks we got in the second period, sooner or later, those are going to go in,” Vigneault said. “When they make it 2-0, you see how solid they are defensively. It makes it real tough on any opponent.”
The Islanders know the key to keeping the Flyers from getting back on track is not to deviate from their own structure of tight defense and persistent forechecking.
“This Flyers team is very good structurally,” Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle said. “They have a lot of depth up front. You’ve heard Barry talk about it. We just want to focus on the way we want to play.”
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