The Philadelphia Flyers played arguably the most important game of their season Sunday night, looking to even their series with the New York Islanders.
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All in all, it was one of the Flyers’ best postseason performances outside of the Round-Robin. However, the night still ended with an Islanders win and the Flyers on the brink of elimination.
If there was a game in the series that the Flyers absolutely needed to win, it was Game 4. Now, they face a 1-3 series deficit that is nearly impossible to overcome after dropping back-to-back games for the first time since January.
The issues that have plagued the Flyers throughout the series persisted on Sunday. As much as they were their own worst enemy, the Islanders, once again, played a disciplined game and looked like the better team from start to finish. Heading into what could be their final game of the season on Tuesday night, the Flyers are going to have to come up with some changes if they hope to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves.
An Incredible Pre-Game Motivator
One of the biggest and best stories from Game 4 took place before the puck dropped. The Flyers were joined by Masterton Trophy nominee Oskar Lindblom for the warmup.
You couldn’t help but smile, seeing Lindblom, who was diagnosed with rare bone cancer last December, join his teammates in the tunnel and throughout the pre-game skate. His progress has been astonishing, and he’s slowly creeping closer to his highly-anticipated return to the lineup. It seemed as though he might play in that pivotal Game 4. He was eventually scratched, but his presence was a fantastic sight, and one that most expected would light a fire under the Flyers to even the series.
Regardless of the game’s outcome, Lindblom and his perseverance through his battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma have been a constant motivator for the team. He’s played such a large part in their success this season.
A Change in Net
Brian Elliott stood tall in the crease for the Flyers.Another story from the pre-game skate surrounded the Flyers’ starting goaltender. So far, Carter Hart has been head coach Alain Vigneault’s starter. That changed in Game 4, and both teams switched goalies. Thomas Greiss put on a remarkable show for the Islanders, while veteran netminder
The man they call “Moose” had only started one Round-Robin game this postseason and had seen just under 22 minutes in net through the first and second rounds. The choice to start Elliott was surprising, but it hardly put the Flyers at a disadvantage. He made 30 saves, some of them crucial against the Islanders’ biggest scorers like Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
None of the Islanders’ three goals were entirely the 35-year-old goalie’s fault, and the score doesn’t do justice to the fantastic game he played in place of Hart. Again, it won’t be surprising if the Flyers return to Hart for Game 5, but Elliott deserves plenty of credit for his efforts last night.
A Tale of Turnovers
As the Flyers have found out in this series, the Islanders will make you pay for small mistakes quickly and often. That was the Flyers’ downfall again in Game 4, as all three goals came off of costly turnovers.
What makes the Islanders such a dangerous group is their success in transition. The Flyers rely heavily on the dump-and-chase, and when the Islanders shut that down in their own zone, they can quickly turn it into an offensive opportunity.
That’s how the Islanders created countless scoring chances and earned their second and third goals. The other came off a fairly egregious defensive zone turnover from the otherwise solid Phil Myers.
The Flyers may not rack up a shocking amount of turnovers in a given game, Game 4 included, but any one of them can quickly lead to an Islanders goal. If the Flyers want a shot at winning another game this postseason, they will have to be more deliberate and careful with their puck movement through all three zones.
A Struggling Lineup
Vigneault has constantly tweaked his lineup for each and every game of the postseason. Over the past two games, he’s kept things exactly the same aside from swapping Elliott and Hart. The most obvious problem with the roster is the absent scoring touch of the team’s regular-season offensive leaders like Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and James van Riemsdyk.
However, that’s far from the only issue. On the back end, the play of veteran Matt Niskanen has been one of the surprise disappointments of the postseason. He’s struggled to complete successful breakouts, connect on passes, and create any kind of offense.
Along with their top stars struggling, the Flyers aren’t getting much from their bottom two lines, including fourth line staples like Nic Aube-Kubel, Derek Grant, and Nate Thompson. Vigneault has been oddly hesitant to move any of them out of the lineup, but it would also be unfair to assume that scratching them would lead to a win.
The Flyers’ lineup saw plenty of changes in the first two rounds, and there is some merit to Vigneault’s moves. He’s not going to take any of his top stars out of the lineup, but changes are in order after back-to-back losses with the same group.
It’s tough to predict what those changes will be, who’s headed to the press box, and if the line combinations will stay the same. We’ll likely see Shayne Gostisbehere back in the lineup after some mediocre performances from Robert Hagg, and it will be interesting to see if the coach turns to some young forwards in Game 5, like Connor Bunnaman or even Morgan Frost.
A Deflating Deficit
At the end of the day, the Flyers are in a dreary state right now. They’re barely clinging to life in this series, and it would take a miracle for them to overcome this deficit. The loss in Game 4 was especially deflating as it was one of their best efforts in the series. Despite that, the Islanders were the better team and exploited the Flyers’ inability to capitalize on scoring chances and close out games.
All that’s left is for the Flyers to take things one step at a time and focus on securing a victory in Game 5.
Regardless of the pessimistic outlook after their Game 4 performance, all hope is not lost. The Flyers have shown their ability to bounce back and overcome adversity before and for the sake of continuing on this strange turnaround of a season, they’ll need to show it again.
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There’s a lot for them to improve on if they hope to keep their postseason alive on Tuesday night. If they can somehow get back to the type of play they showcased in the Round-Robin and overcome the Islanders’ suffocating game, then they might just be able to extend the series.