The New York Islanders are the closest they've been to the Stanley Cup in more than 27 years. They won't have to wait long to try to get even closer.
The Islanders will look to take a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night, when the teams face off in Game 4 of the best-of-seven matchup in Toronto.
The Islanders scored the final three goals of Saturday's Game 3 to earn a 3-1 win and take a 2-1 series lead.
New York, which advanced beyond the quarterfinals for just the third time since 1993 -- the season in which the Islanders upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games before falling in the then-Wales Conference finals to the eventual Cup winners, the Montreal Canadiens, in five games.
Of course, this has already been a playoffs like no other for the Islanders, Flyers and everyone else playing hockey this month in the two Canadian hub cities.
The regular season ended March 11 due to the pandemic and the playoffs didn't commence until Aug. 1. New York wasn't even assured a spot in the main bracket until it beat the Florida Panthers in four games in a best-of-five qualifying round series.
And there will be another wrinkle introduced Sunday -- playing the second game of a back-to-back set after the teams didn't play for more than 48 hours following Wednesday's Game 2 while joining the six other playoff teams in protesting racial injustice.
"You talk about getting everything thrown at you -- everything from this pandemic, this restart, the Phase 1, the Phase 2, the Phase 3, the bubble, the social issues that have been involved, the day off, the change of schedule," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. "Our group is coming in and understood it would be different, and whatever is thrown at us, we won't waver."
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged a sense of urgency for his squad.
Teams that fall behind three games to one in a best-of-seven NHL series have come back to win the series just once in the previous four-plus years. The San Jose Sharks beat the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference quarterfinals last spring.
"We're going to have to be better (Sunday)," Vigneault said. "We don't have a lot of time here. We've got to quickly regroup and find a way to win (Sunday)."
This will be the 13th back-to-back set of the playoffs and the second for both the Islanders and Flyers. The team that won the first game of the back-to-back is 4-8 in the second game.
Two of those losses were recorded by the Islanders, who beat the Panthers, 4-2, in Game 2 on Aug. 4 and fell 3-2 in Game 3 on Aug. 5, and the Flyers, who beat the Canadiens, 2-0, in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series on Aug. 18 before losing, 5-3, in Game 5.
The Islanders' Semyon Varlamov and the Flyers' Carter Hart, each of whom started Saturday, started both ends of the earlier back-to-backs. Neither Trotz nor Vigneault revealed their goalie plans for Sunday.
--Field Level Media
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