Alain Vigneault started writing his legacy back in 1997, when he had his first NHL head coaching gig with the Canadiens.
Over 17 seasons in the business, he has branded his legacy with 689 career regular-season wins (10th-most all-time), 76 career playoff victories (13th-most all-time), 12 career postseason berths and the 2006-07 Jack Adams Award.
He is missing what is known as the holiest in hockey circles: the Stanley Cup. The 59-year-old head coach has two Stanley Cup Final appearances on his résumé but no ring.
What Vigneault has done twice is what the Flyers must do now for a little legacy writing of their own. During his first two seasons with the Rangers, Vigneault overcame a pair of 3-1 series deficits – once in 2014 and again in 2015. The Flyers and their core of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are coming off their first playoff series victory since 2012. Following a 3-2 loss Sunday night to the Islanders, the Flyers must climb out of a 3-1 second-round hole in order to win another series and bring the organization its closest to the Cup since 2010.
Vigneault, in his first season with the Flyers, remembers the focus behind those comebacks in New York.
“I think what we did back then and what we’re going to talk about with our group here is not looking at the big picture, but looking at that one game that’s ahead of you,” Vigneault said Monday in a video interview. “This is a great opportunity, I think, for our leadership group here to change the narrative, change their legacy here. Let’s focus on tomorrow night, let’s go out there, let’s compete the way we did [Sunday].
“At the end of the day, right now, probably not a lot of people are going to give us a chance. What we have to do is not focus on the big task, but focus on tomorrow. That game, that night, bring it in. We brought it [Sunday]. Let’s bring it, let’s find a way to win that game. If we score two and we have to win 2-1, then that’s it. We’ve got to find a way.”
The chances of the top-seeded Flyers finding a way against the Islanders in three straight games with few to little blemishes might be slim. The doubt hovering over that possibility is squarely because of the matchup. The Flyers are not the fastest or most offensively dynamic team. Their success has been predicated on a get-after-you, wear-you-down, possession-based style.
The system lends itself to balanced production. The Flyers did not have a top-40 goal scorer or a top-30 point producer but finished as a top-six club. They were not built around a topflight player single-handedly taking over a game; they want to outwork you from top to bottom.
The quandary here in the second round is the sixth-seeded Islanders are not a team that is often outworked or outsmarted. New York is not flashy, but it’s relentless, structured and pounces on mistakes. The Islanders have outscored the Panthers, Capitals and Flyers – three top-seven goal-scoring clubs during the regular season – 43-22 in the NHL’s return-to-play 24-team tournament.
Including three games in the regular season and the four games in the series, New York has won six of the seven matchups with the Flyers, outscoring them 13-3 in the third period.
The fear filling Flyers fans is this could be a bad matchup at a really bad time.
But the Flyers have reasons to believe it’s not as lopsided of a matchup as it has appeared so far, a matchup that has pushed them to the brink of elimination Tuesday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSN).
The Flyers’ 4-0 loss in Game 1 was a 1-0 game in the third period before a breakdown in the defensive zone (which included Couturier) changed the entire complexion. The Flyers’ 3-1 loss in Game 3 was a 1-1 game until the final six seconds of the second period, when Vigneault’s top defensive pair and forward line had a bad shift and turnover in a backbreaking sequence. The Flyers’ 3-2 loss in Game 4 was a 1-1 game in the third period until the team’s top defensive pair was beat on a costly pinch and impressive play by a fast, game-changing forward.
“I feel like throughout all the games so far, both teams were kind of handing it to each other,” Kevin Hayes said Monday in a video interview. “It’s mistakes that we need to fix that end up in the back of our net. They’re a great team, don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason why they’re here, they’ve got great players. But I feel like a lot of the goals that ended up in the back of our net are results of us shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we fix that, the results should start to change.”
Travis Konecny echoed that sentiment.
“Those one or two little mistakes, they just end up in the back of the net,” he said. “We have those same opportunities and they’re just not going in for us. Every time they seem to get a chance, it ends up in a good result for them. We’re playing the right way, we’re playing hard, It’s just those one or two mistakes, I don’t know, they’re finding a way to put it in the back of the net.”
The Flyers can make this series look closer Tuesday night with a result. They don’t feel all that far away, while Philly has a soft spot for comebacks.
Not a bad opportunity to shape the legacy.
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