After the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders were in a position that they had not been in at all during the Stanley Cup Playoffs including the qualifying round. They were down two games to none to the Tampa Bay Lightning after a blowout loss in game one and a last second loss in game two.
The Islanders traveled from the Toronto bubble to the Edmonton bubble last Sunday following their game seven win over the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday before game one against Tampa Bay this past Monday. With a day to regroup, the Islanders put forth a much better effort on Wednesday in game two but still lost.
But Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz suggested on Thursday that the series was about to turn towards his team and then came Friday night’s 5-3 win in game three.
“I think we’re on a little more even ground than we were maybe to start the series,” said Trotz.
Islanders/Lightning Eastern Conference Final Schedule:
Game 1: Monday September 7th…Lightning 8 Islanders 2 (Tampa Bay leads 1-0)
Game 2: Wednesday September 9th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads 2-0)
Game 3: Friday September 11th…Islanders 5 Lightning 3 (Tampa Bay leads 2-1)
Game 4: Sunday September 13th…Lightning vs Islanders…3pm NBC
Game 5: Tuesday September 15th…Islanders vs Lightning…8pm NBCSN
Game 6: Thursday September 17th…Lightning vs Islanders…8pm NBCSN (If Necessary)
Game 7: Saturday September 19th…Islanders vs Lightning…730pm NBC (If Necessary)
And now the Islanders have an opportunity to even the series with win in game four on Sunday afternoon in Edmonton (3pm NBC). But while the Islanders have played a lot better in games two and three as opposed to their performance in game one, they certainly still have a few things to clean up and that is try and limit the breakouts that Tampa Bay has enjoyed so far in this series.
And a lot of those breakouts have been keyed by the Lightning’s outstanding defensemen including Victor Hedman.
“They like their rush play and obviously they’re highly skilled,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “It’s important that we do a good job in the neutral zone and try to take that rush game out of it because that can really hurt you. We gotta find a way to do a little better job.”
Semyon Varlamov was terrific in both games two and three and figures to be between the pipes again in game four, but there will likely be some decisions on the lineup that may not be solidified until right before the game.
One of those decisions will be the status of forward Casey Cizikas who was not available for game three.
“It’s sort of the same as (Friday),” said Trotz. It will be sort of a gametime to be honest with you. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Throughout the playoffs, Trotz has not been afraid to dip into his depth players.
After defenseman Johnny Boychck was injured in game one against Florida, veteran Andy Green, a trade deadline acquisition by 2020 NHL GM of the Year Lou Lamoriello, has filled the void. Up front, there have been several players that have been in and out of the lineup depending on the situation including Derick Brassard, Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, and Michael Dal Colle who dressed for the game seven win against the Flyers and the game three victory against the Lightning.
“I think we have a great group that’s been in and out of the lineup,” said Dal Colle. “A lot of us are interchangeable pieces but our practices have been great. It’s been high intensity with that group there. All of us are ready when we’re called upon.”
It was a rough start to the series, but the Islanders now have a chance to level the Eastern Conference Final and make it a best two out of three series. From the start of the playoffs, the Islanders have been focused on the task at hand taking things one day at a time with the ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back with them to Long Island.
Trotz has pushed a lot of the right buttons so far, but one thing he has not had to do has been to deliver motivational speeches to his team.
“They’re motivated,” said Trotz. “I don’t think there’s any reason to motivate guys right not. If they’re not motivated right now, we have no chance to win but that’s not the case with this group.”
What can we expect in game four?
Probably another close game.
Tampa Bay won game one in a blowout, but the last two games have gone down to the wire. The Lightning won game two 2-1 on a goal with less than nine seconds left and then the Islanders won game three 5-3 as Brock Nelson snapped a 3-3 tie with less than four minutes to go in the third period. This marks the ninth time in NHL history that the game-winning goal was scored in the final four minutes of regulation time in consecutive playoff games.
In game four, the Islanders would like to get off to a better start than they did in game three as Varlamov was asked to make a lot of great saves early. They need to find their game sooner and take their game to another level.
“We just gotta keep building here,” said Pulock. “It’s a long series and getting that win (in game three) was huge and game four is going to be really big too.”
It’s a critical game for the Islanders who can even the series with a win but fall behind 3-1 with a loss and be on the brink of their season coming to an end.