Before the game, there was much observer discussion about which team would be able to assert its forechecking plan against the other. Turns out the answer was “both teams,” but the Islanders showed theirs first and got a goal out of it, while Varlamov shut the door when the Flyers responded with a strong push in the second period.
A second goal for the Islanders early in the third set the frame to finish the script, which was heavy on the consistent four-line structure that the Islanders have displayed more often than not through first two rounds.
A pretty top-line goal and an empty netter with seven minutes to go finished the scoring and made for deliciously comfortable third.
First Period: Rise of the Machine
The Isles smothered the Flyers with the forecheck to open the game, leaving no doubt that they could pick up right where they left off inthe previous series. It was a thing to behold, and the only sour note was that they only scored one goal out of it — meaning they entered the first intermission just one bounce away from erasing all that good work.
Indeed, that bounce nearly came in the first period, but for the timely block by the team’s eldest blueliner, who was also responsible for their first goal.
That’s right: scoring in this series was opened by a guy who has 49 goals in 923 career regular season games, and three (until tonight) playoff games to his name. Andy Greene, the greybearded deadline acquisition who has been a steady presence since replacing an injured Johnny Boychuk in the
round robin [thank you reader editors] play-in series, became the second-oldest Islander to score a playoff goal behind Ed Westfall, the pre-dynasty captain who played so long ago his name won’t create an auto-link in this story.
Brock Nelson had a nice give-and-go at the point with Greene, who took it to the center of the blueline and fired through a multi-player screen. That made it 1-0 just six minutes into the game, but Carter Hart limited the damage there — including a full-stretch back-door glove save on Brock Nelson — despite the Isles outshooting the Flyers 15-4 in the period.
Of note, it could’ve easily been 1-1 but Greene had a nice foot-drag shot block on an odd-man rush. Kevin Hayes also had a chance, solo on a breakaway, but the puck was bobbling on him and Varlamov held position as the Hayes’ attempt at a quick move slipped away.
Second Period: The Flyer (almost) Strikes Back
Yes, I’m mixing my sci-fi sequel title metaphors here but whatever. The second period was Varlamov’s period. Truly, despite the 4-0 final, this game could’ve easily been a different story but not for Varlamov seeing pucks well, flashing a quick glove, and occasionally being helped by an if-all-else-fails-cover-your-man-like-a-blanket Isles five-man defense.
By the end of the period the Flyers had logged 15 shots on goal to the Islanders’ seven. So before we get too carried away by the final 20 minutes, we should remember this was anyone’s game entering the second intermission. That said, they keep playing the majority of their games the way they played the majority of this one, they’ll be in good shape.
Third Period: Ross the Boss Starts a Party
But the aforementioned insurance goal came early, with the Isles doubling their lead 2:54 into the third period.
An outstanding forecheck and nuisance-making by Ross Johnston — who was productively visible all game — left the puck free behind the net, the perfect location for Leo Komarov to do something with it without shanking it wide. Komarov fed J-G Pageau all alone in front for a fairly simple finish. (Alas, Johnston was not credited with a second assist, which went to Adam Pelech.)
Surprisingly, it was the Selke-worthy Sean Couturier who vacated the front of the net to pursue as the third Flyers, leaving Pageau alone. Not that I expect much repetition there, but if a Johnston-Pageau-Komarov line is giving Couturier fits, we are living well.
Because the Isles are in Peak Trotz mode lately, that goal to make it 2-0 made a victory feel pretty comfortably within reach. So when the top line threw a pretty insurance marker in there, it was pure luxury.
The Flyers knew they need to press, which left them open for a quick counterattack. Jordan Eberle and Mathw Barzal exchanged the puck on the rush, and Barzal sent a sweet cross-slot pass to Anders Lee for the finish from the left wing.
the pass.— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) August 25, 2020
all of it. pic.twitter.com/PJJW1fhZmL
Not long after, Alain Vigneault pulled Hart for a sixth attacker, but that plan was immediately spoiled when Devon Toews’ clear off the glass took a fortunate hop and all the way into the Flyers’ empty net.
Could we not save some bounces for later in the series, please?
It Really Do Be Like That Sometimes
You’re not alone, Claude. You’re not alone.
"The first period was probably the worst period we've had since we've been in the bubble."— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) August 25, 2020
- Claude Giroux
Rough second but that was pretty clinical overall. Great start to the series for the Isles.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) August 25, 2020
Final #Isles 5v5 Metrics via NST
61.10% High Danger
59.10% Expected Goals pic.twitter.com/ZY2zY8uRks
Special Teams Not Needed: Just one power play per side in this game, something that wasn’t exactly inappropriate but certainly favors the Isles. When they are in their four-line rolling rhythm at 5-on-5, they have their best chance to win.
Injury alarm: Adam Pelech took a shot off the ankle late in the third. It was already 3-0 so the ability to close out the win was not in doubt. He did return to the ice, but if that becomes a lasting issue then it clearly changes everything. ... Also, I don’t know how Cal Clutterbuck, who has been a pinata this year, returned from his receiving end of a heavy hip-to-thigh check.
Irritation: Yep, still strongly dislike Matt Niskanen. He took a tempestuous slashing penalty late after Brock Nelson held his stick to shield the puck on the penalty kill. It was one of those “we weren’t going to call the hold but then you did that slash” deals. Nonetheless, Nelson being Nelson, had plenty of deadpan chirping for his fellow Minnesotan as they skated away. I never tire of Nelson’s flat-expression chirps and goal celebrations.
Irrelevant Pleasantry: I confess I don’t know much about Nicolas Aube-Kubel, but I do know I love hearing his name announced on the broadcast. Nifty player too, hope he doesn’t give me reason to hate him.
Franchise Record Book: Varlamov’s shutout gives him the second-longest playoff shutout streak in Islanders history, a record held by Billy Smith that he’s likely to break early in Game 2. He also became the first in franchise history to log two consecutive shutouts.
Game 2 is Wednesday...at 3 p.m. EDT. Your traditional playoff hockey time.