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Isles’ Game 3 postponed in wake of shooting

NHL suspends contest to show solidarity with other leagues

August 27, 2020 John Torenli
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The New York Islanders were eager to shake off a tough overtime playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night in Toronto.

But there are far bigger matters at hand south of the Canadian border.

In a show of alliance with the NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball, the Islanders’ critical Game 3 against the Flyers has been postponed as the league and NHL Players’ Association wish to join their pro sports brethren in shining a light on ongoing racial injustice across the United States.

Though no official word had been given at press time, several media outlets, including NBC Sports, which broadcasts the Stanley Cup playoffs, expected the Isles-Flyers and Thursday’s Vegas-Vancouver game to be postponed.

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This decision came as violent protests continued in Kenosha, Wisconsin following the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer.

The Isles had not commented on their decision, or the leagues at the time this story was published, but the team originally expected to take the ice just over 24 hours after Wednesday’s 4-3 defeat to Philadelphia.

“A loss is a loss and we have to put it behind us and focus on [Thursday night’s] game,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz said after his team battled back valiantly from an early 3-0 deficit Wednesday before Phillippe Myers’ goal 2:40 into overtime evened the best-of-seven series.

With Game 3 at first slated for 7 p.m. Thursday at Scotiabank Arena within the fanless confines of the NHL’s bubble site in Toronto, the Isles will now have to wait and see when they can take the ice again.

The NBA, which canceled its playoff games on both Wednesday and Thursday, is expected to resume at some point, possibly as soon as this weekend.

The WNBA also called off its slate of regular-season games the past two days, including the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty’s contest against the Dallas Wings Thursday.

Major League Baseball saw the Milwaukee Brewers-Cincinnnati Reds game postponed Wednesday evening, and the Seattle-San Diego and Los Angeles-San Francisco games soon followed.

The Brooklyn/Long Island-based Isles left the ice Wednesday thinking they’d have a quick turnaround after the Flyers evened the series at 1-1.

“It’s a swing game.” Trotz noted of Game 3.

So was Game 2, which featured some wild swings in momentum before the Flyers, seeded first in the conference and coming off a six-game triumph over Montreal in the opening round, handed the Isles their first defeat since Game 4 of the quarterfinals against Washington.

“This one stings a little bit because we worked so hard to get back,” team captain Anders Lee said after sparking New York’s comeback bid with a power-play goal at 11:45 of the second period that cut the deficit to 3-1.

“You’re going to face adversity at times and I think we faced it a little bit tonight and overcame a little bit of it, but we were a little bit short, so we’ll grow and learn from this and move on.”

Semyon Varlamov, who backstopped New York to series wins over the Florida Panthers and the Capitals in Toronto, had posted shutouts in his previous two starts before experiencing a rough first period in Game 2.

He surrendered two goals to Kevin Hayes and one to Sean Couturier on the first nine shots he faced before Trotz pulled him with just under five minutes left in the opening stanza.

“I was looking for a spark,” Trotz said of the decision. “I thought we didn’t help [Varlamov] enough.

“Three goals … I think it was on nine shots, and I just was looking for something a little bit different. Not his fault. We didn’t give him enough support there. We can share the blame as a group and we have to refocus for tomorrow.”

Varlamov did make some history before getting yanked.

He extended his playoff shutout streak to 138 minutes and 17 seconds, eclipsing Hall of Fame netminder Billy Smith’s franchise-record run of 136:59, established in 1980, the year the Isles won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

“We didn’t give him any help,” Lee said of Varlamov, who entered Wednesday’s game with an 8-2 record and 1.50 goals-against average since the NHL restart in late July following a four-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s not on Varly, that’s on us in front of him,” Lee added. “He’s backed us up enough. I think we can do a better job of giving him better looks and obviously not so many [good chances] in the first 10 minutes of the game.”

Veteran backup Thomas Greiss, who hadn’t played since a July 29 exhibition game against the New York Rangers, gave the Isles a chance to get even over the final 2 1/2 periods, finishing with 20 saves and putting himself in position to start Game 3.

“I thought he was solid. He made a couple of key saves,” Trotz said of Greiss.

“He looked very comfortable, which is a great sign, that’s a positive for his attitude and his work ethic for our goaltending department. You have to be ready in the playoffs and he was definitely ready.”

Greiss’ presence seemed to spark the Isles, who shook off Philadelphia’s early flurry on goals by Lee, Anthony Beauvillier and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s tying tally with 2:09 remaining in regulation.

“We were resilient tonight,” Lee said. “Obviously not the first period we set out to have, but we understood at the same time there is plenty of game left and a lot of things can happen. So, if we just stick with it, stay positive, we’ll find a way and that’s exactly what we did. Got ourselves to overtime.”

But that’s where they lost it.

Myers’ shot from the right point glanced off Lee’s stick and past Greiss to settle matters, forcing the Isles to swallow a painful defeat.

“We kept battling and sticking with it, but once you get to overtime sometimes that’s all it takes,” Isles forward Josh Bailey said. “They get one off a shaft, it goes in and you turn the page.”

Whether they turn it with Varlamov back in net or Greiss between the pipes is a decision that will likely be made just ahead of game time whenever the team returns to action.

“I felt pretty good, our goalie coaches have done a good job of keeping me sharp and keeping me going in practice,” said Greiss, who consistently split time with Varlamov during the regular season. “I felt good out there.”

Regardless of who winds up starting or when, the Isles know they are in for their toughest series of this strange, drawn-out campaign.

“That’s the coach’s decision,” Greiss ceded. “We’ll see what happens there, but I’m always ready.”
“We knew it would be a long series, a long and hard series,” Pageau added. “I know our team is going to bounce back and give our all tomorrow.”

Isle Have Another: Pageau, acquired along with defenseman Andy Greene at the February trade deadline, has scored in three of the Isles’ last four playoff games and has six goals and two assists since the restart. … Beauvillier leads the Isles and is tied for second in the NHL with seven goals during his postseason. He has tallied at least once in each of the last three games. … The Flyers are 8-0 during these playoffs when scoring the first goal. … Wednesday’s loss was the Isles’ first in five meetings with Philadelphia this season.

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