One couldn’t fault the Philadelphia Flyers if they’re starting to think they’ve seen this show before. They have.
The Islanders are dismantling No.1-seed in the Eastern Conference just as they methodically took apart the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. With a steadiness and a steadfastness that grows more impressive each time that they’re on the ice, the Islanders stymied the Flyers, 3-1, Saturday night in Game 3 of their second-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff series to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven.
Whatever confidence Philadelphia built after taking a 1-0 first period lead disappeared as quickly as an ice cube left on sewer grate in late August in Uniondale. The Islanders played their vintage system to near perfection in the second period, outshooting the Flyers 15-6 and outscoring them 2-0.
Game 4 is Sunday night (8 p.m.; NBC) in Toronto. The Islanders can take a commanding 3-1 lead with a win. The Flyers have less than 24 hours to figure out the most the surprising team in the playoffs.
“If you look at the course of a regular season, back-to-backs are a pretty popular thing,’’ said right wing Cal Cutterbuck. “They happen all the time. If anything with back-to-backs, you almost feel better on the back end. Quite frankly, I think there is more reading into back-to-backs than the actual situation itself. We know how to handle it and it’s really not that big a deal.”
That’s the level of confidence coming out of the Islanders’ locker room.
Their second score, Leo Komarov’s grit-over-grace goal at 19:54 that trickled behind Carter Hart was the game-winner and spirit-crusher. Anders Lee added a power play goal at 3:41, his sixth of the playoffs, to give the Islanders all the cushion goalie Semyon Varlamov would need.
Varlamov, who got pulled in the 4-3 OT Game 2 loss, was back in net and back to his elite, postseason play. He made 26 saves, none bigger than a point-blank stop on Joel Farabee, midway through the third. Varlamov also had four saves late in the game when the Flyers had a 6-on-4 advantage after Lee was called for delay of game and Hart was pulled for an extra skater.
The final score is not indicative of a rout but it’s clear the Islanders are playing superior hockey. They are getting contributions from every player that steps on the ice.
Consider this: The first two goals came from Matt Martin and Komarov, known for their checking and perseverance, not their goal scoring. Komarov’s goal was courtesy of former Ranger Derick Brassard, who was scratched in the first two games in the series.
Brassard intercepted a pass to keep the puck in the Philly zone. He muscled his way around Matt Niskanen and, while being dragged to ice, centered the puck to Komarov. Brassard, Komarov, Martin – they’re doing the job just as Josh Bailey, Matt Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier.