The last time Barry Trotz coached against Alain Vigneault in the playoffs, Trotz’s team blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games.
His New York Islanders took the same lead this year and have lost two in a row to Vigneault’s Philadelphia Flyers to set up Game 7 Saturday night.
”Probably a lot of similarities,” Trotz said. ”It was a series that was very closely contested. It’s a game of inches.”
The Vigneault-coached New York Rangers won that 2015 series against the Washington Capitals on the shoulders of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 105 of 110 shots during the comeback and 35 of 36 in Game 7.
This year, young Flyers goalie Carter Hart made a career-high 49 saves in a double overtime Game 6 victory. For history to repeat itself, he will likely have to do his best Lundqvist impression with a spot in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at stake.
”Without him (in Game 6), we’re not there,” Vigneault said. ”I’m not going to apologize for good goaltending. That’s what you need. They got outstanding when (Thomas) Greiss came in goal. They have got great goaltending from (Semyon) Varlamov. It’s been a hard-fought series. We need goaltending like anybody else that wins at this time of the year.”
Varlamov was the Capitals’ Game 7 goaltender in 2010 – pre-Trotz – for the end of their collapse after being the best team in the NHL regular season and blowing a 3-1 series lead to Montreal. He has been hot and cold this postseason. He broke the Islanders playoff franchise shutout streak record but got pulled earlier this series and looked shaky in Game 6.
Trotz wouldn’t tip his hand on starting Varlamov or Greiss, who won Game 4, with the season on the line Saturday (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBC).
”We believe in both the guys, and Varly’s obviously had a tremendous playoffs,” New York forward Brock Nelson said. ”He’s been maybe the reason why we’re at this point with the opportunity that we have. I think we believe in him.”
The Flyers have won three games in overtime in the same series for the first time in franchise history. Game 5 hero Scott Laughton has fond memories of watching Maple Leafs-Senators playoff series in the early 2000s and now gets to play one in the Toronto arena that was the site of so many of those games.
”It’s exciting,” Laughton said. ”You get a little bit of pit in your stomach before games and get a little nervous: a good nervous excitement, I guess. Really excited to go out there and have one game to try and go to Edmonton.”
No one is more important to that effort than Hart, the 23-year-old who is trying to succeed with a franchise that has been a goalie graveyard for longer than he’s been alive. Vigneault likes that Hart ”stops the puck. That’s what a goalie is supposed to do, stop the puck. That’s what he does.”
Hart has stopped 78 of 85 shots since returning to the net in Game 5. His 49 saves in Game 6 were the fifth-most in Flyers history, putting him in the same company as Hall of Famer and two-time Stanley Cup winner Bernie Parent.
”We’re all athletes, and we’re all expected to perform when we’re called upon,” Hart said. ”We don’t got to change anything. We just got to stick to our identity and just play hockey. Play the game.”
Vigneault believes Hart is still scratching the surface and implied he hasn’t reached Lundqvist’s level as a seasoned pro between the pipes. Hart will benefit from this experience, but his next game is a major test of how far he can carry Philadelphia.
”We trust him back there,” Laughton said. ”He makes a ton of big saves for our group and gives us momentum throughout a game. We trust him back there. It’s going to be fun to watch him.”