FFR2 Round 2, Game 3: PHI 1, NYI 3 - Second Fiddle
If only hockey games ended after twenty minutes.
A nightmare second period capped off by allowing the game-winner in the dying seconds leads to the Flyers second loss of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-1, to the New York Islanders, falling behind two games to one in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
This game was the exact opposite of the typical 2019-20 Flyers experience. Instead of playing poorly in the first period and figuring it out in the final forty, the Flyers started strong only to fall off hard and never recover. Instead of being competent if not creative, the Flyers special teams faltered in the third, keeping them a socially distant two m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶s̶ goals from the Islanders. And instead of locking all windows and doors, Carter Hart (who still played fantastic) let a couple slip through the doggie door and just barely trickle over the line.
The fact that their young stud in goal didn't bail them out isn't the problem, however; the problem is that the Flyers played an absolute awful final forty minutes and let the Islanders completely take over. Philadelphia played a really smart first period, utilizing stretch passes and high lobs to break the Islanders' nearly unbreakable defense. The results were mixed. There were a lot of icings and a few defensive breakdowns, requiring Hart to rob Brock Nelson from the exact same spot as Game 1.
There was no doubt which line had the most success all night. It wasn't the stacked top line, nor the previously red hot second line. Instead, a new look third line of James van Riemsdyk, Scott Laughton, and Tyler Pitlick absolutely dominated. The trio absolutely rolled over the Isles to the tune of a nice 60.87% Corsi and straight-up gaudy 94.55% xGF at 5-on-5. Unlike Claude Giroux, all of their chances actually resulted in a goal, with Pitlick firing a seeing eye shot from the left circle that whizzed past five bodies en route to the back of the net. The first Pitlick Party of the series was the only tally of the first period, setting the Flyers up for success.
And then it all fell apart in the second period for no good reason. The Flyers got away from all of the things that made them successful and started trying to force things. That's exactly what the Islanders thrive off of: impatient and the counter-attack. A missed pass for Joel Farabee, a mis-glove by Travis Sanheim, a lost puck battle behind the net - it's exactly what the Islanders force on a shift-by-shift basis when they're playing their best. Those events led to Mat Barzal finding Matt Martin in front. His one-timer looked to be robbed by Hart, but eventually trickled off the top of his right pad and squeaked over the goal-line, tying the game at one.
The Flyers continued to struggle all period, with the Islanders dominating the shot quality battle and controlling play. However, after a slight resurgence in the final minutes, it appeared the Flyers would weather the storm and head to the locker room tied. Too bad looks can be deceiving. Just a stupid, there's no need for that decision by Ivan Provorov to throw just an absolute grenade up the middle from his own goal-line backfired in the worst possible way. Brock Nelson kept it in with his glove, and what do you know, Leo Komarov wound up with an A-plus chance in front that, beating Hart and the buzzer to give the Islanders the lead for good.
Things quickly went from bad to worse in the third. Everyone's favorite coach's pet (how else would he still be in the lineup) Robert Hagg took a slashing penalty (in the offensive zone!) to send the Isles to the power-play. Considering New York's elite defensive structure, giving up a goal here would almost certainly be fatal. Then again, making fatal mistakes is what the Flyers did best in Game 3. Jordan Eberle found Anders Lee in front, and his pass to a wide-open Barzal wound up caroming off Hart's stick and into the net. For the second straight series, Lee has scored in each of the first three games, giving the Islanders a commanding 3-1 lead.
If the Flyers were going to comeback, they needed Joel Farabee to bury a prime one-time chance right in front of the net at the halfway mark of the period. It was their best look of the game, but unfortunately Farabee ripped it off the corner of Varlamov's pad, leaving the Flyers with nothing to show. Even though the Flyers outshot New York 12-4 in the third, it felt hollow. Most of the looks weren't quality and, with the exception of the aforementioned Farabee chance, it never felt like the Flyers were close to coming back.
Throughout the course of the season, and especially since they turned things around for good on January 8, the Flyers have excelled in two key areas. The first is that they had been undefeated in regulation the entire season when leading after the first period, dropping just one game in a shootout. Of course, that lost happened to come against the Islanders. Saturday's loss weakens, if not outright removes that bragging weapon from the Flyers' tool belt. It's not like anyone couldn't process the possibility of the Flyers blowing a lead in the final 40 minutes, but to see it play out in front of our faces is something else.
The other major weapon the Flyers have thankfully remains in tact. It's their ability to rebound that has made the Flyers so successful; they haven't lost back-to-back games since January 7, and haven't lost consecutive games in regulation since January 4. If the Flyers are going to win this series, that weapon has to be brought out in full force on Sunday. Whether it's Carter Hart or Brian Elliott in net, the Flyers need to play much better in front of their goalie, or else the Islanders will continue to impose their will and seize a stranglehold on the series, stealing the Flyers' last big strength in the process.
The Flyers only PP of the game came as a result of a new rule for the 2019-20 season. Anders Lee was penalized for losing his helmet and continuing to play without putting it on. It's not the first time this new rule has affected play, but it's the first time I've seen someone be penalized for violating it.
Another major strength for the Flyers all season was their third period play. The Flyers scored 85 goals (3rd in NHL) and allowed 60 (5th) in the regular season during the final full period. But in the playoffs, they've been outscored 10-4, whereas the Islanders have the best 3rd period goal differential in the bubble (+13, outscoring opponents 17-4). In this period, the Islanders have outscored the Flyers 7-0 in the third period.
JVR entered the lineup in place of Michael Raffl. It seems like a strange decision to scratch Raffl, a lineup staple all season and one of the team's best depth forwards. However, it's possible the Austrian Rocket may be banged up.
Vigneault summarized the GWG perfectly post-game; "It was 1-1 (with) 25 seconds left in the (second) period. Faceoff in the offensive zone. Put my top players on the ice: Top line, top D-pair. And to give up that late goal, you just can’t do that at this time of the year.”
Game 3 was originally slated to take place on Thursday night. However, in wake of the Jacob Blake shooting, as well as countless other events over the past months and years, the NHL players decided to suspend all games scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The NBA had already done the same and nearly cancelled their playoffs entirely. Several MLB games over the past few days were also suspended, with the league celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson day on Friday (as was previously planned).
The pre-game ceremonies consisted of a video highlighting the accomplishments and directives on and off the ice by black NHLers such as Seth Jones, Evander Kane, and former Flyer Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare. That was followed by a video of James van Riemsdyk and Ryan Pulock that expanded on the previous video. JVR was the Flyers representative at a Friday press conference (along with Tampa's Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston's Zdeno Chara, and New York's Anders Lee) discussing the reasons for the boycott/protest/sit-out.
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault also issued this speech to the press before Saturday's game. Vigneault had previously said he was unaware of the NBA's actions and what a lot of what was going on outside of the Toronto bubble.
1st - Jordan Eberle (NYI) - 2 Assists (4, 5), 56.25% Corsi, 61.09% xGF
2nd - Adam Pelech (NYI) - 23:14 TOI, 58.97% Corsi, 87.44% xGF
3rd - Tyler Pitlick (PHI) - Goal (2), 64% Corsi, 89.7% xGF
Game 4 - 8/30, 8 PM
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstattrick.com