PHILADELPHIA — Familiarity breeds animosity in the NHL, which is particularly true during best-of-seven playoff series.
It’s still a long way to the postseason but the Islanders and Flyers played for a second straight time on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center after the Islanders extended the Flyers' winless streak to 0-7-3 with a 5-2 victory at UBS Arena on Saturday night.
Saturday’s third period was certainly chippy, with the teams totaling 46 penalty minutes.
“It’s just a new game,” said defenseman Alexander Romanov, whose clean check on the Flyers’ Kevin Hayes sparked a third-period scrum. “Everything’s new.”
This marks the Islanders’ lone home-and-home series of the season, which is somewhat unusual. Last season, the Islanders played the same opponent in consecutive games four times. And in the 2020-21 season, with games being played only within the division to minimize travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, three straight games against the same opponent was common.
“Maybe it cuts down a little bit on preparation because you’ve played them already and you kind of know what they’re doing,” coach Lane Lambert said. “But it’s another game for us. In the past we did it quite a bit in that one year. There’s always adjustments to be made heading into Game 2 of a back-to-back.”
“You know a little bit more about them,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “We do a lot of video before every game. When you can play the same team back to back, you can limit that a little bit. You have a better understanding of what they’re trying to do in different areas of their game.”
For some players, the home-and-home series is a reminder of collegiate hockey, when schools typically play a Friday-Saturday series. Or their time in the AHL, when three games in three days over the weekend is not unusual.
“It’s different,” said Brock Nelson, who dressed for his 700th NHL regular-season game. “It’s a little bit like college. We did it a little bit in the shortened season. Every game is going to be a little bit different but a divisional rival, it’s always going to be heated.
“The last game got heated for sure.”
That developing animosity between this season’s Islanders and Flyers is not a bad thing, though.
If anything, it fuels the players’ competitive fire even more.
“They play really hard,” Casey Cizikas said of the Flyers. “That’s what you want out of a team. You want to go into a game and be like, ‘This is going to be a hard-fought game, nothing is going to be easy.’ You get yourself prepared that it’s going to be a battle for 60 minutes.”
Saturday’s victory extended the Islanders’ winning streak to four games and their overall spurt to 13-4-0. They entered Tuesday’s play in second place in the Metropolitan Division and tied for fifth overall in the NHL.
Again, it’s a long way to the playoffs in April. But the Islanders’ strong start has validated the team’s belief that last season’s playoff miss — their first since 2018 — was an aberration caused by a COVID-19-impacted schedule and roster.
“It’s massive,” Cizikas said of the team’s start. “The biggest thing for us is we’re never out of a game. We’ve created that reputation so far at the start of the year that we’re going to play hard no matter what the score is.”
Cizikas added that a 4-1 loss to the visiting Devils on Oct. 20 in which the Islanders were completely outskated served as “a wake-up call for us.”
“We’ve had ups and downs but I think we’ve played some really good hockey since then.”