It had been nearly eight months since the Flyers had a true losing streak, where they had lost back-to-back games. In the biggest game of the season, it finally happened.
The Islanders again took control in the third period, scoring twice and holding off the Flyers rally late for a 3-2 win that moved them one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
It played out so much like the other games in the series. The Flyers had their moments. The Islanders had more of those moments. They used turnovers and transition plays to their advantage again. And while the Flyers had more shot volume and traffic to the net than in previous games, the goalie who kept them in Game 2 made sure they were in Game 4 and got the result needed.
Here are 5 takeaways from Game 4 of Flyers-Islanders.
1. Another Slow Start
The Flyers came out with good energy. They had the first five shots of the game and led in shots, 6-5, after a first-period power play came and went.
And then, they went completely cold. The rest of the period might as well have been an Islanders power play. From the end of the Flyers power play, the Islanders had a 13-1 advantage in shots.
It’s happened too often in this series when the Flyers would go on spurts, start to take command of the play and then let it fizzle away into nothing. The Flyers played seven good minutes to start the game. Then they let the Islanders run the show.
While the Islanders didn’t score in that opening period, that play carried into the second, at least at the start, and the Islanders capitalized on another sloppy turnover that was the result of assumption. Assumption that the Islanders would not make a read on the play that the Flyers have tried before. Assumption that this was an easy outlet. Assumption that another defensive zone turnover wouldn’t come back to haunt them.
It did. Seconds after the Flyers forwards completely abandoned the defensive zone and Phil Myers turned the puck over to Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson scored to give the Islanders the lead. Even one goal in this series feels like a mountain, and it sure did at that moment.
2. Dirty But Good
Give the Flyers some credit from here. They held the Islanders to three shots in the second period, one of them being the goal, and started to go to work. They started to win battles. They started to get traffic to the net. And finally it paid off.
A shot by Justin Braun was deflected by Sean Couturier and tied the game, entering the final minutes of the period. There is seemingly one way to score on the Islanders in this series, and it has usually involved throwing shots at the net and trying to get deflections or little bounces. It worked again there and the Flyers evened the score and made it a game.
3. Battle of the Backups
A lot will be made of the decision to start Brian Elliott in such a crucial game. Look for another excuse, because Brian Elliott was the reason this was even a game to begin with.
The Islanders had 18 shots in the first period and somehow didn’t have a goal. Elliott was the reason, making several saves on an Islander power play. Throughout the second and third, he kept the game manageable, even as the minutes ticked away in the third period.
Ultimately, this result didn’t rest on who was in goal. Carter Hart could have played and maybe it would have gone better, maybe it would have been worse. That’s hindsight. But Elliott gave you a chance and that’s all you could ask from the backup who has started in only one other game in the playoffs. It’s not his fault for the rest of the players that made crucial mistakes at key times.
Meanwhile, Thomas Greiss was at his best. The Flyers had a number of glorious scoring chances. Late in the second, they nearly produced the same kind of goal the Islanders had in Game 3. Early in the third, they had another handful of great chances.
It seemed like on each of the Islanders goals in the third, a big save by Greiss preceded it and that was quite possibly the difference in the game.
4. Lost in Transition
Both goals in the third period were the result of transition plays and came with the Flyers top defensive pairing on the ice. These were two of the poorest reads you could have and both came back to haunt the Flyers.
Ivan Provorov is a solid young defenseman. He’s got the potential to be in the Norris conversation and be an elite defender in this league. But he’s victim to breakdowns and couldn’t save Matt Niskanen for another of his.
The Islanders got the lead in the third on a complete neutral-zone breakdown. As the Islanders break out of the zone, Niskanen tries to stand up Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the blue line and loses. Pageau goes right around him and now has a step. In the meantime, the Islanders have possession as Scott Mayfield exits the zone and Derick Brassard is cutting through the neutral zone as well.
Provorov comes over to play the puck carrier, and with Niskanen caught in a footrace he can’t win, Pageau jumps ahead with all sorts of open ice in front of him. Mayfield feeds him and away goes Pageau. Elliott gets a piece, but not enough and it goes in.
Just four minutes later, Niskanen again gets caught, this time trying to pinch on a puck that is a good five-to-10 feet away from him. Anthony Beauvillier makes a touch pass that springs Nelson on a two-on-one with Bailey. A give-and-go later on Provorov and the puck was in the net. Game, set, match.
The Flyers have thrived on plays like that all season. Now they are feeling the burn from trying to get risky and trying to play with desperation. It often results in goals like that where one mistake is all it takes.
5. Backs to the Wall
So now the Flyers are officially on the brink. Game 5 is on Tuesday night. It is a true must-win. If not, the Islanders head to the conference finals and the Flyers come home, two rounds short of what they set out to accomplish.
There’s no sense in trying to evaluate the season and the results inside the bubble before it is officially over, but given the overall frustration level in the series and the periods of dominance the Islanders have shown, it feels like the magic is running out.
The Flyers were a team that had swagger when the season paused in March. They somehow took almost five months off and came back and found that swagger again in the Round Robin.
But then they had to battle their way through a physically demanding six-game series with Montreal. The Islanders made easy work of the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals on their way to winning both series and advancing to this point.
Perhaps there are things beneath the surface that will be excuses down the road. It may just be the bubble life taking its toll. It could be injuries that are hampering the top players. In the playoffs, the best teams overcome those things anyway, and the Islanders are showing just how much better a team they are than the Flyers.
They aren’t dead yet, but if the first four games are any indication, the Flyers don’t have much life left.