Barry Trotz’s team led the playoff series three games to one, before Alain Vigneault’s squad stormed back to win the next three, including the decisive Game 7.
The 2015 second-round series between Vigneault’s Rangers and Trotz’s Capitals has played out similarly this summer in each coach’s current gig, with Vigneault’s Flyers overcoming a 3-1 series hole against Trotz’s Islanders with back-to-back overtime victories to force a seventh game Saturday in the Toronto bubble with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the taking.
“There’s probably a lot of similarities,” Trotz said Friday on a Zoom call, the morning after Philadelphia’s 5-4 double-OT win evened the series. “There were games [in 2015] where we played very, very well and didn’t get a victory… sort of what you’re seeing in [this year’s] playoffs.”
Indeed, Vigneault’s Blueshirts won the final three games after dropping three of the first four in the 2015 Metropolitan Division final, featuring overtime winners by Ryan McDonagh in Game 5 and Derek Stepan in Game 7. The Flyers actually have posted all three of their wins in this series in extra time, including Ivan Provorov’s double-OT tally in Game 6.
“The outcome is the same in the sense that one moves on and the other team doesn’t play anymore,” Vigneault said of Saturday’s series finale. “There’s a lot at stake, obviously a lot of pressure. But it’s an enjoyable, or should be an enjoyable moment, for players and coaches. You get yourself ready and lay on the line what you have.
“This next one is gonna be interesting. We played five periods of hockey, we’ve been playing a lot of hockey, both teams, physical hockey, and I feel like we’re that toy growing up that you keep punching in the face and keeps getting back up. We were down 3-1, and we’re still there. We gave ourselves a chance and we’ll get ready for [Saturday], work hard and enjoy the moment.”
The Islanders, who haven’t been to a conference final since 1993, when the East still was known as the Wales Conference, talked Friday about a need to clean the slate and focus solely on their next performance.
Asked if he has a “special message” for his players, Trotz replied: “Yeah, I will, but I’m not going to tell you. It’s for the players.”
“For me personally, it’s what you play for. These moments are fun,” said veteran defenseman Andy Greene. “You shouldn’t be nervous, and I know that’s easier said than done, but you go out there and trust everything you’ve done throughout the year and throughout the series. Just trust yourself as a hockey player and it comes down to just believing in yourself and waiting for the opportunity.”
Greene appeared in two Game 7s in 14 seasons as a member of the Devils, losing in 2009 to Carolina and defeating Florida in 2012.
The Islanders also dropped a seventh game to Trotz’s Capitals in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. They have squandered a multitude of scoring opportunities in each overtime defeat to the Flyers, including a breakaway chance Thursday by Brock Nelson that was denied by goalie Carter Hart.
“You’re gonna have some ups and downs, but it’s kind of what you want as players. You gotta win a game,” Nelson said. “Whatever’s happened in the past is done, and it’s about one game and getting ready for that.
“You can’t sit and look back. Would I like to have the overtime shot back? Sure. But we’re here tied up at three now headed into Game 7. … It’s been some time since that Game 7 in Washington, but it’s fun and it’s an opportunity that you cherish and you want to make the most of it. You’re playing to move on and I think that’s all that needs to be said. There’s a lot of guys that would be happy to be where we are right now and just have to try to take advantage of it.”