Following a thrilling evening of hockey, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs come to a close Saturday night with the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers battling it out in Game 7. The Islanders are trying to advance to the conference final for the third straight game, while the Flyers hope to become the only team this postseason who has successfully come back from a 3-1 deficit.
Here is a preview for Saturday’s matchup between the Islanders and Flyers, along with a series recap and a free pick. FanDuel Sportsbook has New York favored at -140.
The Islanders’ success this season was largely built off of defense and goaltending, and that’s exactly what came through for them in Game 1. Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves to earn his second consecutive shutout, leading New York to a 4-0 win and an early series lead.
After a quiet first 40 minutes, the offense also came through, with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau leading the charge in a three-goal third period.
Philadelphia would bounce back and win Game 2 by a score of 4-3, but it wasn’t easy. Center Kevin Hayes scored twice early on as the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but New York found a way to come back from the deficit and tie the time with a little over two minutes left in the game. However, defenseman Philippe Myers was the hero for Philly, scoring his first goal of the playoffs in overtime.
The Flyers started Game 3 well again, but the Islanders dominated the final two periods to win 3-1. Right-wing Matt Martin and left-wing Leo Komarov each scored for New York, as did left-wing and captain Anders Lee, who made it two straight games with a power-play goal.
There was a quick turn-around with Game 4 coming the next day. But even with backup goalie Thomas Greiss, the Islanders found a way to win the third period and win the game 3-2.
The scoring didn’t start until the second period, where New York center Brock Nelson and Philadelphia center Sean Couturier each put their team on the board. It was in the final frame where the Islanders shined, getting yet another goal from Nelson to serve as the eventual game-winner.
In their first must-win game to stay alive, Philadelphia won in overtime again 4-3 in a thrilling Game 5. Left-wing Claude Giroux, left-wing James van Riemsdyk, and defenseman Matt Niskanen all scored to put Philly up before New York tied things late in the third once again. Then in an overtime that was longer than the one in Game 2, center Scott Laughton broke his scoreless streak with the game-winning goal.
Game 6 saw yet another OT, this one needing a second overtime to decide things. But defenseman Ivan Provorov saved Philly’s season once again, burying the game-winner to lead the Flyers to a 5-4 win and a trip to Game 7.
Hayes and van Riemsdyk got Philadelphia on the board early on, before the Islanders scored three goals unanswered. They then traded goals before Laughton tied the game in the third, and Provorov won it in OT.
Keys to Victory
New York will win if they limit Philly’s chances once again. That may sound strange given the fact that the Flyers just had five goals in a game, but the Islander defense has largely kept them in check this series.
Even in Game 6, the Islanders held their opponents to 2.08 expected goals while out-shooting them 53-31. Philadelphia has needed overtime to win all three games, while New York has kept them from having any high-danger opportunities. If the Isles can stick with their defensive gameplan, I think luck will swing back in their favor.
Philadelphia will win if Hart saves them. Everything just mentioned above is true. The Islanders have generally been the better team this series, and the Flyers have continued to struggle on offense, averaging 2.14 expected goals this series. But a hot goaltender can carry you in the postseason, and that’s what Philly has in Carter Hart.
The second-year netminder made a career-high 49 saves in Game 6 and was a perfect 25-for-25 from the third period onward. Even if the offense has looked outmatched at times, Hart’s play gives the Flyers a chance to win any given night.
In the final Game 7, before the conference finals begin, this game will come down to stats versus instinct. The numbers seem to back New York as a team that has been better at even strength and has only been beaten in overtime.
But Philadelphia has won each of the last two games and staved off elimination with clutch goals and brilliant goaltending. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, which is why I like Hart and the Flyers to complete the series comeback and advance to the next round.
Pick: Flyers +120