Impressively, on the day of his Flyers facing their first elimination scenario of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Alain Vigneault was half coach, half historian.
With the Flyers staring down a 3-1 second-round playoff series deficit against the Islanders, Vigneault can draw on his own experiences in such predicaments. The Flyers’ head coach has twice dug out of a 3-1 hole to win a series — with the Rangers in 2014 and 2015.
But on Tuesday, seven hours before Game 5, Vigneault was well versed in the history of his players, the guys that will have to pull off the comeback on the ice in order for the Flyers’ 2019-20 turnaround season to reach its next step.
He began rattling off the moments in which his players had been a part of a historic rally, with their backs against the wall.
In 2010, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk were on the Flyers team that stormed back from 3-0 and stunned the Bruins in the second round.
In 2011, Nate Thompson was on the Lightning when they took down the Penguins in seven games during the first round after falling behind 3-1.
In 2015, Kevin Hayes was on Vigneault’s Rangers club that overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Capitals in the second round.
In 2019, Justin Braun was on the Sharks, who erased a 3-1 pickle during the first round against the Golden Knights.
In NHL history, a team has come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series 29 times, four of those comebacks being from down 3-0.
Vigneault was astutely aware of the past. He has relished the challenge of being down and almost out, and expects his players to do the same.
“Well, that’s what I’m banking on,” he said with an excited smile Tuesday in a video interview. “I go back to the great opportunity. You’ve got G and JVR that have done 3-0. You’ve got Hayesy that has done 3-1. You’ve got Brauner that did last year, they were down 3-1, he was a veteran player, so he knows about wearing the big-boy pants. You’ve got Nate Thompson, back in  with Tampa Bay, he was down 3-1 against Pitt and he came back. He’s a veteran player, established, so I need him, he’s been wearing his big-boy pants and I need him to continue to wear his big-boy pants.
“We’ve got some experience, maybe guys in different roles than when they did it. Got a whole bunch of younger players that they’re going to learn from this and grow, they’re going to be a big part of this. I feel as a group, we should really be excited. We were excited coming back and playing, we went through the round robin, we went through the Montreal series, now we’ve got this. We’ve got to win tonight. That has got to be our focus.”
In order for the Flyers to reel off three straight wins against the Islanders, two aspects are critical: avoiding the costly mistake or two that has swung the complexion of the previous matchups and igniting the Flyers’ top offensive threats.
By now, 13 games into the Flyers’ playoff run, everyone knows Giroux and Travis Konecny have yet to score a goal. That storyline has been widely discussed and publicized on the outside. Jakub Voracek is also scoreless in the series against the Islanders after a seven-point first-round output vs. the Canadiens. The two-time 30-goal scorer van Riemsdyk remains without a goal or point in nine postseason contests, as well.
The Flyers, as whole, need to be better. It’s that simple. The team has scored 1.80 goals per game over 10 games in the first and second rounds. That won’t cut it in an aspiring playoff run.
In the Flyers’ historic 2010 comeback, Giroux was in his first full NHL season and van Riemsdyk was a rookie.
“At that time, they were the Joel Farabees, the T.K.s, the [Ivan Provorovs, the Philippe Myers], the kids that we have. But they definitely found a way to contribute,” Vigneault said. “Now, I mean, it’s their turn to put the big-boy pants on and to get out there; we’re no different, I’m looking at the eight teams that are in the playoffs right now, the eight teams, you’re looking at their top line and their production, I believe our guys have more to give and more to do.
“I’m not at all questioning their will, I’m not at all questioning their work ethic on the ice. They have to find a way to come through. We have no choice, we have to start tonight. I think this is a great opportunity for those guys to step to the forefront, grab this opportunity and go out there. Let’s start by short focus, tonight, let’s start by winning this game and then give ourselves a chance.”