When Flyers ownership, management and coaching staff look back on the 2019-20 season, no doubt it will be deemed one of progress.
But it’s safe to say that evaluation will be hard to smile about so soon after Saturday night’s discouraging 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The Flyers, who rallied from down 3-1 in the series to win Games 5 and 6 in OT, didn’t really have their “A’’ game from the opening whistle and fell behind by a 2-0 score after one period.
Only some acrobatic goaltending from Carter Hart kept the score from being more lopsided.
Making matters worse, both Islander goals were scored by defensemen – first Scott Mayfield and later Andy Greene.
The Islanders expanded their lead to 3-0 in the second period when Claude Giroux lost the puck to Josh Bailey in the Flyers’ defensive end. New York raced away, Giroux was slow getting back and Brock Nelson hit Bailey in stride for the goal.
The Flyers could muster only nine shots in the first two periods against backup goaltender Thomas Greiss, who got the start over No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Meanwhile, the Flyers welcomed back Sean Couturier to the lineup after missing the latter portion of Game 5 and all of Game 6 due to a sprained medial collateral knee ligament but the team’s offense couldn’t seem to generate any extra energy from that move.
By the third period, Couturier was replaced on the top line by Kevin Hayes.
So, the Islanders move on to the Eastern Conference finals to play the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Monday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
The Flyers head home to begin a rather short offseason. Training camp for the 2020-21 season is expected to start in mid-November.
Coach Alain Vigneault expressed disappointment with the outcome.
He was asked if the Flyers just ran out of gas from trying to overcome such a big deficit in the series.
“I liked our start, the first six minutes we were on our toes,’’ he said. “We were making plays, we were in their end. And then after they scored that first goal, we just never had the same bounce, the same pop.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing to our whole group. To win a series, it’s a race to four (wins). It’s not a race to three. You have to win four games. We were down, we gave ourselves a chance and tonight, when we needed to be good, we weren’t good enough.’’
Several aspects of the game continued to give the Flyers problems in this game.
Again, they failed to score on the power play (twice) and finished the series 0 for 13 and just four for 52 in the playoffs.
And the Flyers’ big scorers, including Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny (no goals for the entire postseason) and James van Riemsdyk, continued to struggle on offense. Among five players with at least 19 goals in the regular season, only Kevin Hayes came through in the playoffs.
Also, the Flyers had trouble winning puck battles. The Islanders seemed to get to pucks first on the majority of occasions.
On top of that, twice the Flyers were whistled for too many men on the ice.
In his post-game press briefing, Vigneault said he hadn’t spoken to his team yet.
“There’s a tremendous amount of disappointment in the result,’’ he said. “Probably not just disappointment in our will but in our game tonight. We didn’t play as well.
“The Islanders played outstanding. We weren’t good enough tonight.’’
Couturier said the Flyers had to work quite hard for their chances.
“They’re a structured team,’’ he said. “We didn’t create enough, we didn’t win enough one-on-one battles. We had some looks but it wasn’t good enough.’’
Possibly the most disappointed of all was Giroux, who at age 32 probably isn’t too sure how many more chances he’s going to get at a championship.
“I think we battled hard in Game 5 and 6 to get to Game 7,’’ he said. “We just couldn’t get the job done tonight.’’
One player who will get a lot of chances at a title is Hart. That doesn’t mean he was satisfied with this outcome.
“We came into the bubble hot,’’ he said. “Playoff hockey is a different animal. You have to bring it every night. You can’t have off nights. So the bounces just didn’t go our way tonight.’’
Mayfield connected at 9:27 of the first period. The defenseman skated to the right circle and when the Flyer defense was slow getting over, there was a free path for a shot to the far side.
At 13:12, Greene struck when Derick Brassard eluded two defenders to Hart’s left (including Giroux), then swung a pass across for an easy shot into an open net.
Bailey scored at 11:26 in the second period and the Flyers knew they were in trouble.
The Flyers didn’t get their 12th shot on goal until late in the third period (7:30 to play). The team record for fewest shots in a playoff game is 11, in Game 5 vs. Washington on April 22, 2016. They finished with 16 shots.
New York scored its fourth goal into an empty net at 13:42 of the third after Vigneault pulled Hart.