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Islanders can’t look back at missed opportunities entering Game 7 vs. Flyers

Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones preview Saturday's pivotal Game 7 between the Islanders and the Flyers.

After seeing a 3-1 series lead evaporate, and suffering their three losses by the thinnest of overtime margins, it’d be understandable if the Islanders wondered “What if?” heading into Game 7 against the Flyers. The Islanders are doing their best to put those disappointments behind them, though.

“Our shots were there, our chances were there, we just couldn’t get one to go,” Anders Lee said after that Game 6 loss. “We played some pretty good hockey to create those chances. At some point you’ve got to bury one ... You can’t dwell on these too much.”

But oh, those chances to be just as rested as the Tampa Bay Lightning. If we’re being honest, the Flyers are fortunate to get to this Game 7 against the Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC following Kentucky Derby coverage [livestream]).

Just look at Game 6. By just about every measure, the Islanders dominated the play, except on the scoreboard.

As much as Trotz and other Islanders pump up veteran bonafides, this is in many ways rarified air.

Via the Islanders website, this marks the first time the Isles have been pushed to a Game 7 when they’ve held a 3-1 series lead. Again, the Flyers won all three of their games in OT during this series, while every Islanders win has come during regulation.


It looks a lot like a role reversal for the Islanders. Usually, they’re the team that features top-notch goaltending and bend-but-don’t-break defense. Lately, the Flyers have been the ones doing the “counter-punching.”

The Islanders are saying all of the right things about putting the past behind them heading into Game 7 against the Flyers. But at least one question lingers.

Varlamov or Greiss? Islanders playing coy about Game 7 starter vs. Flyers

While the Islanders have found ways to score more than expected, Carter Hart’s still been a positive difference-maker for the Flyers. Hence the Henrik Lundqvist comparisons.

On the other end of the ice, you have the Islanders, who must mull over their starter decision as Semyon Varlamov hasn’t quite looked like a Conn Smythe contender lately. Calls for Thomas Greiss to start only get louder after Varlamov allowed shaky goals like the 2-0 tally by James van Riemsdyk from Game 6:

To reiterate, Trotz didn’t tip his hand regarding Varlamov or Greiss starting.

“Both of them are really good options for me at goal,” Trotz said. “We’re actually going through our roster right now; going through our defense, going through our forwards and going through our goaltenders. We’re blessed with two pretty good goaltenders. Any decision that we decide on, we have both trust with our players and with our goaltenders in that situation.”

In the grand scheme of things, Trotz isn’t wrong.

Even after some recent stumbles, Varlamov sports a sturdy .921 save percentage in 14 contests during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Greiss has looked very sharp when called upon, but that’s only happened twice during this postseason.

When you factor in context (Varlamov’s contract has term, Greiss is likely leaving as a free agent), it only makes more sense for the Islanders to go with Varlamov.

Then again, this is a Game 7. If Trotz’s confidence is wavering in Varlamov -- even just for right now -- then he’ll need to pull the trigger and switch to Greiss. It sure doesn’t seem like he’s going to give his opponents or the media much notice if that’s Trotz’s call, however.

Whether the Islanders go with Greiss or Varlamov in Game 7, the bottom line is that they’ll need to focus on finding a way to close out Carter Hart and the Flyers. That hasn’t been an easy task so far, although the Isles have often looked like the better team.

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (Series tied 3-3)

Islanders 4, Flyers 0 (recap)
Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT) (recap)
Islanders 3, Flyers 1 (recap)
Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (recap)
Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT) (recap)
Flyers 5, Islanders 4 (2OT) (recap)
Game 7: Saturday, Sept. 5 – 7:30 p.m. ET (following Kentucky Derby coverage) – NBC (livestream)


James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.