TORONTO – Islanders hockey is winning hockey.
When the Isles get to their game fast and sustain it, you’ll be hard-pressed to defeat it, let alone decipher it.
That the Philadelphia Flyers’ shot total did not break single digits until the 42-minute mark of Game 7 suggested this was an Islanders kind of event.
Defend. Suffocate. Outwait.
See you next bubble.
“The Islanders are built for this,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault confessed, hours before his team’s elimination. “They’ve got size. They’ve got power. They use it.
"The Islanders played outstanding.”
Yes, it took three tries, but the better team claimed this best-of-seven with a 4-0 blowout win Saturday. And the Islanders will be the final club to leave Hotel X, just as they were the final team to leave the Royal York.
Call them survivors. Word to Destiny’s Child.
The lowest seed (11) of the Elite Eight remains the lowest seed of the Final Four.
The Islanders, the only living squad without the benefit of a bye round, are also the most offensively proficient(!) (3.33 goals per game) and defensively efficient (2.07 goals allowed per game) of all playoff teams with a breath.
Yes, they’ll be underdogs against the favourite Tampa Bay Lightning — but they have teeth, gnashing.
“To me, it’s the buy-in. This time of year, it’s not as much about X’s and O’s. It’s about focus and staying on task. Winning spaces, getting to the net, winning your battles,” said Isles coach Barry Trotz, whose club did exactly that.
“It’s unique. It’s an opportunity, and they’re embracing it.”
The Islanders cruised to Game 7 victory after much overtime heartbreak this series, proving centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau correct.
“We knew it was going to be a long and hard series and the best team was gonna win it,” Pageau had said.
Contrary to the Western Conference’s semis on Friday, this was a rather quick and decisive referendum on who was the better franchise.
“How many teams have Pageau and Brassard on their third line?” Vigneault wondered.
And he’s right.
The Islanders were deeper and more consistent Saturday, refusing to let a third opportunity to punch their ticket to Eastern Conference final go to waste.
Defenceman Scott Mayfield opened the scoring, becoming the 16th playoff goal-getter for New York with a wrister that sailed high over Carter Hart’s blocker.
Derick Brassard opened up Mohawk and completed a beautiful pass to rental defenceman Andy Greene, who hammered the second goal into a mostly empty net.
“It seems like the trade deadline was, what, 10 years ago at this point.” Greene said. “It was an easy decision for me, and I couldn’t be prouder of this team, how we’ve battled, and what we’ve had to go through since February.
“We earned it.”
Brock Nelson tacked on a third strike in the second period, and Anthony Beauvillier pounded an empty-netter in the third.
It wasn’t much of a contest.
Isles backup goalie Thomas Greiss, given the start, was barely tested in his 16-save shutout. Such is the Islanders way. They scored first and last, controlled the pace, and remained disciplined through all 60 minutes.
“We stayed to our identity,” Trotz said, upon reaching the Islanders’ first conference final in 27 years. “Let’s play Islander hockey for however long it takes.
“Don’t go halfway. Be all-in.”
Indeed, the best squad lives on. But a fresher, more difficult challenge is hot and resting in Edmonton.
They go by the name of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they will pack more push-back than any of the three teams New York has already sent packing.