Haters gonna hate, right? The New York Islanders trounced the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday night with a smothering 4-0 victory. But to hear social media tell the tale, it was the 1990s New Jersey Devils reincarnate doing the damage.
Those ‘trap’ Devils won three Stanley Cups from 1995-2003 and played in another final during that span (losing to Colorado in 2001), bogging down the neutral zone and crushing the spirits of both opponents and any fans that weren’t die-hard New Jersey partisans. And while there is some connective tissue between the old Devils and new Islanders in the form of legendary hockey mind Lou Lamoriello, it’s not fair to paint the Isles with such a broad brush – unless you’re referring to their ability to win games.
True, the Long Island club has been a defensive powerhouse by surrendering a league-low 1.67 goals-against per game in the playoffs, but they’ve also been the best offensive team in the Eastern Conference post-season by tallying 3.33 goals-for per game. Overall, New York is fourth in offense and third if you cast aside the eliminated Edmonton Oilers, a team that only played four games total (and lost three of them).
Plus, this Islanders team cannot be accused of sitting back. New York dominated the first period against the Flyers, holding Philadelphia to just four shots on net while posting up 15 of their own. Yes, the Islanders can drop back and hold the fort defensively, but they also have a tenacious forecheck led by the likes of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, among others. This has always been a team that will hit you and grind you during the Lamoriello/coach Barry Trotz era. And while the Flyers dominated play in the second period, they couldn’t get one past New York goalie Semyon Varlamov, allowing the Isles to push back in the third and seal the deal.
“We tried to come back to our game plan,” said center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “Put the puck deep and go win our battles down there. I thought we did a really solid job of that for the most part.”
So how far can these Islanders go? They certainly made a statement in Game 1 against the Flyers and if they can repeat the performance three more times, they’ll be onto the conference final to face either Boston or Tampa Bay – both formidable foes. The Bruins play excellent two-way hockey and have the high-end elements to burn anyone, while the Lightning are a different beast that is much more reliant on offense. But if Tampa Bay does end up figuring out the Bruins, their strategy would be much the same for the Islanders.
Having said that, it would be folly to count out New York at this point. The Islanders are getting offensive contributions from everywhere right now (Andy Greene scored!), including from team leader Josh Bailey and breakout star Anthony Beauvillier, the 2015 first-round draft pick.
“For us, that’s something we take pride in,” said captain Anders Lee. “Every guy going out there and playing for one another: it’s a mindset and the culture we have in the room. We take care of one another and I think it shows on the ice. If we want to be successful, if we want to make a run, we gotta have everyone pulling the rope. Everybody in this bubble is extremely important to us.”
The scary thing for Philadelphia is that the Islanders may not even have been at their peak in Game 1. Trotz noted that the two teams hadn’t played each other in a very long time and that this first post-season meeting of the series was very much a feeling-out process. Now that New York has a bit of a handle on the Flyers, the vise could tighten even more. And while that may not sound very exciting for neutral hockey observers, it’s very good news for Islanders fans hoping for a long playoff run.