Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to suspend their season, the Islanders were in a freefall having lost seven games in a row. But since they arrived in the hub city of Toronto for the Eastern Conference playoffs, they haven’t lost a game. The Islanders beat the Rangers in an exhibition game and now have a 2-0 lead in their best of five Stanley Cup Qualifying Round series against the Florida Panthers following Tuesday’s 4-2 win in game two at Scotiabank Arena.
With the victory, the Islanders are in the driver’s seat but they are now squarely focused on finishing the job on Wednesday in game three at noon in Toronto.
“(Tuesday) we enjoy for another five or ten minutes and then we’re focused on (game three),” said defenseman Andy Greene during a Zoom call with reporters a short time after game two. “You know that we’re going to get their best game of the series (Wednesday) and we gotta be ready.”
Greene had an assist on Matt Martin’s second period goal and was in the lineup because Johnny Boychuck remains in concussion protocol after a head injury suffered in game one.
Over the last two seasons under Head Coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders have, for the most part, done a good job of turning the page from one game to the next and focusing on the next game. That is no different in this case with a 2-0 lead. In the Islanders’ minds, there is no room for error because they are not thinking about the potential for a game four or even a decisive game five. For the Islanders, it’s business as usual and that is to prepare to win a game. And in this case, it’s a game that can send them to the traditional first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think the mentality is still the same,” said forward Matt Martin “There are so many momentum swings throughout the course of a series that you just really have to stay focused on the task at hand and stay disciplined. Their life is essentially on the line so they’re going to throw everything they have at us. We just gotta (play) a sixty-minute game and find a way to get a win and close this thing out.”
After a 2-1 win in game one on Saturday, the Islanders showed plenty of resiliency in game two after a rough opening ten minutes to the contest. Martin’s second period goal tied the game at 1-1 and then defenseman Ryan Pulock blasted home a power play goal in the second to level the game at 2-2. The first of two Jordan Eberle goals gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead after two periods and Eberle gave the Islanders some insurance with a third period power play goal. After a shaky start, the Islanders were able to settle down and come away with a huge victory but now they turn their attention to what many people feel is the hardest game to win in a series…the closeout game.
“Our main focus is on (Wednesday) now,” said Pulock. “This is all over with and (game three) is the biggest game of the series. They’re going to come with their best and we gotta be prepared here to bring our best and just play our game.”
With a chance to punch their ticket to the field of sixteen and the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Islanders won’t have a whole lot of time to relish their game two victory because game three is less than 24 hours away. The Islanders have enjoyed a lot of success in the back end of back to back games over the last two seasons so this is not going to be anything new to them or anything that will change their preparation.
The play is to turn the page and be ready for what lies ahead.
“Play our game first,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Forget about this game. What we did (Tuesday) doesn’t matter. Enjoy it for an hour and get focused in on what we need to do (on Wednesday).”
The Islanders players have been taking part in a ping pong tournament during their down time in Toronto. If they can finish off the Panthers on Wednesday in game three, the Isles will have some extra time to finish the tournament or even have another one before the next series gets underway.