The New York Islanders had their way with Philadelphia during the regular season, scoring five goals twice and outlasting them in a shootout of a third victory.
The Islanders, though, are not expecting an easy path through the second round of the NHL playoffs against the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded team.
Game 1 is Monday night (7 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network) in Toronto.
When the league resumed play after pausing during the pandemic, Philadelphia won its first three games by a combined score of 11-3. The Flyers went on to eliminate Montreal and advance in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
”I really believe that there’s another level that we can attain if our top end guys execute the way we have seen them execute throughout the year,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Islanders’ first win over Philadelphia was nearly 10 months ago followed by victories in November and February.
”We were on top of our game and they were still growing,” New York coach Barry Trotz recalled. ”They got better and better and they passed us in the standings.”
Vigneault brushed off his team’s lack of success in previous meetings.
”I haven’t even looked, to tell you the truth, at any of the games that we played prior to the bubble,” he insisted.
Vigneault acknowledged that in previous postseasons, he did review regular season games when preparing for an opponent.
”It’s not the same,” Vigneault said. ”It’s not 82 games and then you go into the playoffs. It was 12th-of-March stoppage. Stoppage for everybody. Get back to it in July.”
Before and after the season was paused, Vigneault did take note of how the Islanders have improved under their defensive-minded coach.
”He’s made that team play that full 200-foot game,” Vigneault said.
Trotz prides himself on preparing his teams for anything and everything in practices, but he won’t have that luxury with the first four games of the series scheduled to be completed by Saturday
The players, according to Trotz, don’t mind.
”The days are longer when you’re not playing,” he said. ” Game days, guys are competitive. They sort of thrive on that. The off days are a little longer. They just want to play. You can correct a couple things in practice, but with our schedules, basically being four games in six days, there won’t be a lot of practice until Game 5 or Game 6.”
DALLAS STARS VS. COLORADO AVALANCHE, Game 2 (9:45 p.m. NBCSN)
The second-seeded Avs will be without goaltender Philipp Grubauer and likely will be missing defenseman Erik Johnson when they try to pull into a 1-all tie in the Western Conference semifinals against the third-seeded Stars.
Grubauer left Game 1 early in the second period with a non-contact injury. Johnson was very limited after his right leg appeared to awkwardly turn midway through the first period of Dallas’ 5-3 series-opening win.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said Sunday he’s not sure how long Grubauer will be out of the lineup. He will likely be replaced by Pavel Francouz, who stopped 27 shots in a 4-0 win against Dallas in round-robin play earlier this month in Edmonton.
Francouz faces a tough task, trying to slow down the Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin after the trio took over Saturday night.
Colorado may have to lean even more on Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon, who had two goals and an assist in Game 1.
Bednar doesn’t plan to make a lot of changes for Game 2, giving his players a chance to bounce back.
”They’ve earned a lot of trust and banked a lot of trust based on the way we’ve played not only through the season, but recently,” he said. ””I’ll lean on my decision to probably give them a chance to respond.”
The Golden Knights are hoping to avoid a goalie issue of their own with Marc-Andre Fleury successfully asking his agent, Allan Walsh, to remove a questionable tweet he posted Saturday featuring an illustration of the goalie in net being impaled by a sword with ”DeBoer” written on it. The post caused a stir in what was an obvious criticism of Vegas coach Peter DeBoer favoring Robin Lehner over Fleury this postseason.
”I’ve known him since I was 15 and really appreciate his passion for the game,” Fleury said, referring to Walsh. ”I think it was a way to defend me for not playing much, but I’m here to win with my team.”
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