The Islanders are in a best three out of five playoff series for the first time since they were swept by the Washington Capitals in 1986, the last season before the NHL switched to a best of seven format for the opening round of the post-season. So, when the NHL announced their return to play format, the best of five has returned for the “Stanley Cup Qualifying” round and the Islanders are certainly off to a better start than 34 years ago as they beat the Panthers 2-1 in game one on Saturday in Toronto.
The best of five certainly has a different dynamic than a best of seven. In a best of seven, if you lose the first game you’ll still in good shape and even if you go down 0-2, there’s still a realistic chance to come back. However, in a best of five, grabbing that first game like the Islanders did on Saturday puts then in a position to put a stranglehold on the series with a win in game two on Tuesday afternoon.
“The urgency level comes a little quicker so we can put the team on a brink two games into it and not three,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz during a Zoom meeting with reporters on Monday. “It comes quick and we’re playing back to back so you have to have the same mentality in game two as you had in game one. You have to be as urgent, you have to be as desperate, and you have to be as focused.”
Desperation is the key word heading into game two. The Panthers don’t want to fall behind 0-2 and have to win three in a row to take the series. On the flip side, the Islanders have to try and match Florida’s desperation and clean some things up from game one in order to put themselves in a position to wrap up the series in game three on Wednesday. A best of seven series can last for what seems like an eternity, but a best of five series can be over with in the blink of an eye.
“It’s a condensed series,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee. “Every game is that much more important and you don’t have as much time to maybe make a mistake or try to get back that momentum that you create in a game. Honestly, it just really puts an emphasis on every game is more important than the one prior and you gotta continue to build off of the short period that we’ve had so far coming into this thing and just try to continue to raise our game.”
The Islanders are 6-1 all-time in best of five playoff series and they were 6-0 until that sweep at the hands of the Capitals in 1986. The Islanders knew for quite some time that they were going to meet the Panthers in this format but there really isn’t a set way to prepare for a best of five as opposed to a best of seven. The approach is one game at a time and when a game is over, the focus is on what lies ahead.
“Being that short of a series, game one means that much more, game two means that much more and three,” said forward Jordan Eberle. “I don’t think the preparation changes. I think we knew right off the bat that the team that was prepared the quickest and mentally ready to go the quickest was going to win. Obviously with us winning game one, you expect to see their best (on Tuesday) and if we don’t bring it, going to be a tied series.”
In a best of seven, the momentum of a series could change two and maybe even three times. But in a best of five, there’s not much room for error and the Islanders have an opportunity on Tuesday to push the Panthers to the brink and that brink would come up less than 24 hours after game three comes to an end. A best of five really does move a lot faster than a best of seven as this series has already reached a crucial game for both teams.