Ok, repeat after me: Going up 2-1 in a series, doesn’t mean you have the series won.
If you are Jack Capuano and the New York Islanders, don’t just repeat it, but be like Bart Simpson and write it in the board over and over again.
The Isles blew a golden opportunity tonight to put their foot on the Panthers throat and take control of the series by dropping Game 4, 2-1, but the malaise they played with tonight – especially in the first period – made you recall the days of the Jimmy Carter administration.
“You are not going to win many games when you score one goal and the same guys score,” said coach Jack Capuano. “We didn’t manage the puck in the first period and we didn’t make it hard for them. It’s probably the worst we played the whole season.”
Simply put the Isles weren’t good enough; weren’t hungry enough and rested on their laurels after Sunday’s exciting Game 3. They didn’t play the game with desperation and vigor and the Panthers did. No more and no less.
Now they have to turn the page and look forward to Game 5 in Florida on Friday.
“You have to turn the page whether it’s a win or a loss,” said defenseman Travis Hamonic. “At this point in the season, you have no time to dwell on it, so you get right back at it. We just have to keep working. We know it’s hard to win games this time of year. There are a lot of intangibles going on out there. We lose this one, but we get right back at it. We’re really confident in our group and in our team that we can get the job done.”
If the Isles are going to win their first series in 23 years, they will need to learn a lesson from this game. They can’t take any game for granted in the playoffs. Even with a lead, the team you’re playing is never dead until you won the fourth game.
Even if they have a cushion, the Isles will need to treat Game 5 like an elimination game. It’s going to be very difficult for them to win a Game 7 down in Florida, so if they are going to move on to the second round and play a game in May, they will have to take the first of this now three game series.
Furthermore, the Isles can’t get into the same trap they did tonight. They can’t give away periods or minutes. Instead they will have to do unto the Panthers as the Panthers done unto them tonight. Meaning they will have to take the South Florida crowd out of the game, early and preferably have a lead by the end of the first period.
They will need to control the puck better and knock the bigger Panthers off with the forecheck.
It’s that simple.
“I mean we don’t want to go down,” said Isles captain John Tavares. “We want to give ourselves the best chance to win in each game. The next game is always the most important. The series keeps going along here, it’s crunch time.
Now for the good news: They did that before in Games 1 and 3. They opened the series by silencing the crowd and controlling the match and demonstrated a ferocious forecheck in both games.
This isn’t an impossible task, but the Isles will have to keep their eye on the prize here.
They need to play with desperation in Game 5 or they can kiss the season good bye.
Now write that on the board 100 times.