The Philadelphia Flyers are facing elimination in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Islanders on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS) knowing there aren’t a lot of people who believe in them.
Teams trailing 3-1 are 29-284 (9.3 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series, including 0-6 in the first round this season.
But the Flyers said they believe they played perhaps their best game of the series in a 3-2 loss in Game 4 on Sunday, and if they can clean up some of their mistakes and finish more of their scoring chances, a comeback is possible.
“The beauty of the playoffs is it can flip quick, and I think we’re close to busting through,” Philadelphia defenseman Matt Niskanen said Monday. “I believe in our group that we can do that. We’ve got to have something go right for us here in Game 5 and we can start flipping the series.”
[RELATED: Full Flyers vs. Islanders series coverage]
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault knows well how it can happen. He coached the New York Rangers when they rallied from 3-1 to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 second round. Vigneault’s Rangers also came back from trailing 3-1 in the 2015 second round against the Washington Capitals (then coached by Islanders coach Barry Trotz).
In 2014, the death of forward Martin St. Louis’ mother, France, on the day before Game 5 at Pittsburgh became an emotional rallying point for the Rangers that carried them to the Stanley Cup Final. In 2015 against Washington, pulling out a 2-1 overtime win in Game 5 after tying the game with 1:41 left in the third period sparked New York’s comeback.
“What we did back then and what we’re going to talk about with our group here is not looking at the big picture but looking at that one game that’s ahead of you,” Vigneault said. “This is a great opportunity, I think, for our leadership group to change the narrative, change their legacy here. Let’s focus on tomorrow night. Let’s go out there. Let’s compete the way we did yesterday.”
The Flyers have been held to seven goals by the Islanders after scoring 11 in six games against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
Philadelphia showed signs of life Sunday and generated sustained offensive pressure for much of the second and third periods, outshooting New York 31-15 over the final two. The Flyers scored two goals, one on a deflection by center Sean Couturier in the second and the other on a point shot from defenseman Ivan Provorov with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker and 1:05 left in the third.
“We’ve just got to keep going to the net,” said forward Travis Konecny, who has not scored in 13 playoff games after leading the Flyers with 24 goals during the regular season. “It’s seems that where the goals are scored is around the blue paint. I think the big thing, too, is to get in front of the goalie’s eyes. We’ve been preaching that a lot and [Couturier] did it yesterday and scored a big goal for us. So the results, they’re right there for us. It’s just a matter of getting a couple more bounces.”
In contrast, the Islanders have been efficient in capitalizing on the Flyers’ mistakes. On Sunday, New York turned defenseman Philippe Myers‘ defensive-zone giveaway into Brock Nelson‘s goal that gave it a 1-0 lead 6:52 into the second period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau then got behind Niskanen for a breakaway and a 2-1 lead 7:18 into the third. Niskanen was caught pinching down from the right point on Nelson’s 2-on-1 goal that made it 3-1 at 11:12.
“It’s mistakes that we need to fix that end up in the back of our net,” Flyers center Kevin Hayes said. “They’re a great team, don’t get me wrong. There’s a reason why they’re here. They’ve got great players. But I feel like a lot of the goals that end up in the back of our net are the results of us shooting ourselves in the foot and once we fix that the results should start to change.”
The Flyers know they’re running out of time to save their season. The Islanders are one win from reaching a conference final for the first time since 1993.
But the Flyers are hoping that a win Tuesday could change each team’s perspective.
“Right now, probably not a lot of people are going to give us a chance,” Vigneault said. “What we have to do is not focus on the big task but focus on that game that night bringing it. We brought it yesterday. Let’s bring it and let’s find a way to win that game. If we score two and we have to win 2-1, then that’s it. We’ve got to find a way.”