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Islanders-Flyers rivalry gets new wrinkle with first playoff series in 33 years

Anders Lee of the Islanders battles for position

Anders Lee of the Islanders battles for position during the first period against Joel Farabee of the Flyers at Barclays Center on Feb. 11, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders and Flyers typically play four times in the regular season and thrice in the preseason, including one rookie game. So the Metropolitan Division foes have a healthy familiarity with each other.

Yet, they have somehow avoided playing each other in the playoffs for 33 years. That changes on Monday night as they open their best-of-seven, second-round series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

And it will change the tenor of the rivalry.

“I think there is a rivalry within the division just because of the location of all the teams,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “But an elevated rivalry really comes when you play in the playoffs and have those long series, nose-to-nose for six, seven games. It gets heated. It gets elevated to another level.”

The Flyers have won three of the four playoff meetings between the teams, but they have not met since 1987 when the Flyers won a seven-game Patrick Division final. It’s also been a while since either team has advanced to the conference final, the Flyers last going in 2010 and the Islanders not since 1993. The Islanders last won the Stanley Cup in 1983 and the Flyers’ drought dates to 1975.

“It’s playoff hockey,” Islanders left wing Matt Martin said. “It’s just a completely different animal than the regular season.”

And the NHL postseason in 2020 is a “completely different animal” than past playoffs. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the regular season on March 12 – the Islanders had won the first three games against the Flyers and the season-series finale at Philadelphia on March 24 was canceled – and there was a pause of four-and- a-half months before play resumed on Aug. 1 in sequestered arena/practice rink/hotel bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

While the quarantines have worked so far – the NHL on Monday reported a fourth straight week of zero positive COVID-19 tests in the bubbles – the league is motivated to hurry the playoffs along to guard against a future outbreak and to shorten how long its personnel must be away from their families.

So in a playoff rarity, the Islanders and Flyers will play two sets of back-to-back games if their series goes to a full seven games. Game 2 is Wednesday afternoon and Game 3 follows on Thursday night, with Game 4 Saturday at noon. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are Sept. 2-3.

That could well alter how Trotz and Flyers’ counterpart Alain Vigneault coach in the series.

“That’s something that’s obviously going to be the same for both teams,” Vigneault said. “The number of games in a short amount of time is something that might be a little out of the ordinary. We do play four [games] in six [days] on quite a few occasions during the regular season. This case here we’re going to play four in five-and-a-half days. But no traveling. It will be interesting to see how the players react. It’s going to be up to the coaches to decide who looks fresh. Each team is going to have some hard decisions as each game moves forward.”

Trotz, asked about the tight schedule, went right to his goalie situation and repeated how he was comfortable with both Semyon Varlamov, who made his 10th straight postseason start in Monday’s Game 1, and backup Thomas Greiss.

“I can only tell you [the lineup] will be reassessed at every game,” Trotz said. “I think we look at our lineup with a little bit of a plan. Knowing that there is a couple of back-to-backs, I think there will be a few lineup changes and you’ll probably see that at both ends.”

New York Sports