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Islanders, Flyers enter playoff matchup playing their best hockey

Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders defends against Oskar

Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders defends against Oskar Lindblom of the Flyers during the second period at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 27, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders swept the three-game regular-season series from the Flyers.

And as far as Islanders coach Barry Trotz is concerned, there couldn’t be a more meaningless statistic going into the teams’ second-round playoff series.

“It has no bearing on where we are right now,” Trotz said after his team’s practice on Saturday. “It seems like it’s years ago we played them. It’s two pretty good teams that are going to square off. It’s what you’re doing right now that really matters.”

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

The Islanders eliminated the Capitals in five games in the first round and the Flyers needed six games to oust the Canadiens. The Islanders also won the best-of-five qualifying series in four games against the Panthers while the Flyers earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference by going 3-0-0 in a round-robin.

In the regular season, the Islanders beat the Flyers, 5-3, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 27, 4-3 in a shootout at Philadelphia on Nov. 16 and 5-3 at Barclays Center on Feb. 11.

“They played us very well all year,” Flyers president and general manager Chuck Fletcher said Saturday, a day off for his team. “I’ve been watching a lot of games here and I think they’ve played as well as any team in our bubble here in Toronto. They found their game very quickly and played with purpose, structure and identity. They’re a very good hockey team.”

That was not necessarily the case when the NHL season was paused March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourth-line center Casey Cizikas suffered a left-leg laceration against the Flyers on Feb. 11 and the Islanders, already without top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech because of an Achilles tendon injury, limped into the forced hiatus on a 2-7-4 slide.

“I think both teams are in a different place,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said.

The Flyers, in their first season under coach Alain Vigneault, grew stronger as the season progressed and were 19-6-1 from Jan. 8 until the season was halted. They had a nine-game winning streak snapped in their last game before the pause, a 2-0 loss to the visiting Bruins on March 10.

They have become more structurally sound defensively and Fletcher noted the improvement in how the Flyers manage the puck.

“We’re a team now that has an identity,” he said. “We play the game the right way.”

“That’s one of his strengths,” said Islanders forward Derick Brassard, who played for Vigneault with the Rangers from 2013-16, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and a berth in the conference finals the following season. “He did the same thing with the Rangers a few years ago. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about AV. His team is going to be ready to go. It’s going to be a big series against us. I’m just expecting AV to prepare his team really well, like he did all season long.”

Trotz has been coaching against Vigneault since 1998, through his stops with the Predators and Capitals before joining the Islanders in 2018 and Vigneault’s previous jobs with the Canadiens and Canucks, in addition to the Rangers.

“Exactly the way the Flyers play is what I saw when he was with the Rangers,” Trotz said. “They’ve got good structure defensively. They will be aggressive in terms of their forecheck. Their defensemen get up in the play. They have a real good balance between the offensive part and the defensive part. They manage pucks well. All the things you need to do to have success in this league.”

ISLANDERS VS. FLYERS

Second-round series (best-of-7)

Scotiabank Arena, Toronto

GAME 1: Monday, 7 p.m., NBCSN

GAME 2: Wednesday, 3 p.m., NBCSN

GAME 3: Thursday, 7 p.m., NBCSN

GAME 4: Saturday, noon, Ch. 4

GAME 5: Monday, Aug. 31, TBD*

GAME 6: Wednesday, Sept. 2, TBD*

GAME 7: Thursday, Sept. 3, TBD*

*if necessary

New York Sports