The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders each feel they can reach another level in the Eastern Conference Second Round, which gets underway at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“I think both sides are going to be looking to improve upon where they stand currently and demand more from one another and expect to raise our game,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said.
New York, the No. 6 seed in the East, is 7-2 in the postseason. The Islanders eliminated the Washington Capitals with a 4-0 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Thursday after defeating the Florida Panthers in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
The Islanders have advanced in part because of their strong defensive structure, which limited the Capitals to eight goals in the series, three at 5-on-5.
New York coach Barry Trotz said his team isn’t short on belief heading into Game 1.
“I think our 5-on-5 play, you can say (has) confidence, I think we just trust it,” Trotz said. “We know what works for us. I think we understand how you win in the playoffs. We’ve basically gotten through two rounds right now from a mental and physical standpoint that it’s sort of ingrained in your DNA of what you need to do and how you have to play.”
What also helped was the Islanders’ top offensive players stepping up, including Lee; the forward didn’t have a point in four games against Florida, but he scored a goal in each of the first three games against Washington.
“[I was] able to put a couple in and be effective out there,” said Lee, who scored 20 goals during the regular season. “I think that’s what we all set out (to do) every day, but you need to get a bounce or two and all those things. You just try to continue to build on your game and feel good out there, feel like things are going the right way.”
The Flyers secured the No. 1 seed in the East after they went 3-0-0 during the round-robin potion of the Cup Qualifiers. They then eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the first round.
But Philadelphia’s top five goal scorers during the regular season — forwards Travis Konecny (24), Kevin Hayes (23), Sean Couturier (22), Claude Giroux (21) and James van Riemsdyk (19) — have combined for one goal in the postseason, by Hayes during a 3-2 victory in Game 6 against the Canadiens on Friday.
“We were able to win that first round playing hard hockey, good hockey,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “But when you analyze it, I do believe there’s another level we can attain if our top-end guys execute the way that we’ve seen them execute throughout the year.
“I don’t want to get into specific names, but there are a few guys that need that execution, those plays that you need to make under pressure, those plays that you need to make to get the puck out of our end quicker, those plays that you need to make through the neutral zone, those plays in the offensive zone that a skilled player can make, our guys did but didn’t do with the regularly and consistency that you need at this time of the year.”
Konecny, who played in his first NHL All-Star Game and had a career high 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) during the regular season, scored one point against the Canadiens, an assist in Game 4.
He said he understands the need to have a bigger impact but is confident he’ll avoid frustration if the Flyers continue to have success.
“A win is a win in the playoffs,” Konecny said. “As long as we’re doing well, if I’m not on the scoreboard that doesn’t really matter; I’m trying to contribute in other ways. There’s lots of ways to win a hockey game that doesn’t involve points and scoring.
“I’m aware that I need to step up a little bit more. We’ll just move forward now and focus on the next series.”
The next series could look similar to what the Flyers experienced against the Canadiens. They were outscored 13-11 but persevered with timely goals, strong play in the defensive zone and outstanding goaltending from Carter Hart, who had a .936 save percentage and two shutouts in six games.
“I think it can help us down the road,” Couturier said. “We went through some adversity there, a lot of emotions. We expect the same kind of series here against the Islanders. They’re pretty disciplined in the way they play and structure-wise. It’s going to be emotional and important to stay patient and stick with it.”
The Flyers and Islanders each depend on a detail-oriented, heavily structured game plan that starts from the defensive zone and relies on a heavy forecheck to kill plays in the neutral zone and transition into quality offensive opportunities.
The team that is able to do that better, and longer, will likely be the one that advances to the Eastern Conference Final.
“There’s no question there’s another level we need to get to,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “And that probably goes for every team that’s still playing.”
NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton contributed to this report