The New York Islanders knew they were boarding a plane Sunday.
Getting back to a stifling defensive structure and goals from a couple unlikely sources ensured they’ll be flying west instead of heading home.
Brock Nelson had a goal and two assists as the Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 7 on Saturday to win their second-round playoff series and advance to the NHL’s Eastern Conference final.
New York defencemen Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene — with four goals in a combined 89 post-season appearances coming into the winner-take-all encounter — also scored for the Islanders, who secured a spot in the conference final for the first time since 1993. Josh Bailey chipped in with two assists, while Anthony Beauvillier added an empty netter.
Thomas Greiss had to make just 16 saves to record his first-career playoff shutout.
WATCH | Scott Mayfield’s opening goal was enough for the Isles:
“Game 7, you never know what you’re gonna get,” Nelson said of Mayfield and Greene. “Everyone wants to be on their game and be a difference maker.
“You never know who it’s going to be or who’s going to have the opportunity.”
The Islanders will now meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final four of the league’s restart to its pandemic-delayed season, with Game 1 set for Monday in Edmonton. The Western Conference final is set to feature the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the Alberta capital after both clubs won Game 7s of their own Friday.
“You have to go through adversity to grow as a group,” said New York head coach Barry Trotz, whose team lost Games 5 and 6 in overtime before a suffocating Game 7 victory. “This is part of the growing aspect. I thought last game we deserved to win, and that laid a good foundation for our game tonight.”
Carter Hart stopped 22 shots in defeat for the Flyers, who won three OT games in a series for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s a race to four,” Philadelphia head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were down, gave ourselves a chance.
“On a night we needed to be good, we weren’t good enough.”
Last game in Toronto
Saturday marked the last action in the Toronto bubble as part of the NHL’s resumption of play that kicked off Aug. 1 after the schedule was suspended in March because of COVID-19. The Stanley Cup final will also be played in Edmontonm, which has hosted the West side of the 24-team bracket.
The third of three Game 7s in the second round — the Golden Knights and Stars both avoided blowing 3-1 leads in their respective series thanks to decisive victories against the Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche — the Islanders opened the scoring midway through Saturday’s first period.
After the Flyers had a couple of chances, including Jakub Voracek’s redirection off the post less than a minute in, Mayfield scored his first-career playoff goal at 9:27 when he came down off the point and beat Hart over the blocker on only New York’s second shot.
‘We have our identity’
“We know how we want to play,” Mayfield said. “When we’re moving north, getting the puck in, being physical on the forecheck, playing fast, we have our identity.
“It’s nice that we got to that identity pretty much right off the bat.”
There was also a sense of relief for Mayfield, whose stick broke on the sequence that led to Ivan Provorov’s winner in Philadelphia’s 5-4 double overtime victory in Game 6.
“I was kind of down past couple days,” the blue-liner added. “Game 7, game-winner Eastern Conference final, I don’t think anyone would think I’d be scoring it.”
The only team from the qualifying round to make the conference finals, the Islanders then had a couple of great chances in front of Hart as they found their legs, and made it 2-0 at 13:12 when Derick Brassard wheeled in the offensive zone before firing a cross-ice pass to a pinching Greene, who had Hart at his mercy. The 37-year-old’s second of the post-season came after he opened the scoring in his team’s Game 1 triumph.
“Last game we thought we were the better team,” Green said. “But all of a sudden it’s Game 7.
“You never know what’s gonna happen in a Game 7.”
Flyers captain Claude Giroux tipped a shot off the post early in the second, but New York carried the majority of play as the period wore on. Hart stopped Nelson on a partial break and Nick Leddy in quick succession before Beauvillier rattled iron with another shot.
But 22-year-old goaltender, who made 49 saves in Game 6, could do nothing on New York’s third after Provorov lost an edge in the offensive zone. The Islanders broke the other way on a 2-on-1, with Bailey feeding Nelson at the last possible moment to bury his seventh at 11:26 and put things out of reach.
Pressed into action after the shaky Semyon Varlamov allowed a combined nine goals in Games 5 and 6, Greiss didn’t have a lot to do, but denied Kevin Hayes on a break later in the period.
“It was an unreal game,” said Greiss, the first Islanders goalie to pitch a Game 7 shutout since Glenn Resch in 1975. “That was the best defensive game I’ve ever seen this team play.”
Sean Couturier returned to the Philadelphia lineup after missing Game 6 with a sprained knee ligament, while Oskar Lindblom dressed for the second consecutive contest. The 24-year-old was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer back in December, but completed radiation treatments in early July.
Trotz and Vigneault battled in a Game 7 for the second time in their careers. Back in 2015, Vigneault’s New York Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Trotz’s Washington Capitals to reach the conference final.
There would be no repeat in 2020.
Philadelphia got a power play midway through the third desperately looking for a spark with its season on the line, but Greiss, who made 36 saves in New York’s Game 4 victory, was there to shut the door.
The Flyers had another surge before Beauvillier scored his eighth into an empty net with 6:18 left in regulation as the Islanders secured their first conference final berth in 27 years.
“We’re excited. We’ve earned it,” said Green, a trade deadline acquisition from the New Jersey Devils. “Not too long to bathe in it.
“We’ve gotta get focused again [and] get ready for Monday.”