Being down three games to one in a best of seven playoff series and coming back to win seems like a daunting task. That’s what the Islanders are facing right now heading into game five of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night in Edmonton (8pm NBCSN). They have to win three straight games against a team that just beat then three out of four times. But the Islanders know all about 3-1 series leads in all different ways.
In 1975, they were down 3-0 to the Penguins and came back to win the series in seven games.
In 1987, they were down 3-1 to the Capitals and rallied to force a game seven and won that in overtime.
On the flip side, the Islanders have also fought back in a pair of series only to come up short.
The Islanders were down 3-0 to the Flyers in 1975, came back to force a game seven and list.
Then in 1987, the Islanders trailed the Flyers 3-1 and then won two straight before losing game seven.
So how do the Islanders approach what’s in front of them right now?
“It’s all about focus,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We’ve done it all the way through the playoffs here. We focus on the moment. Focus on what you need to do and have fun doing it. There’s 27 teams and 700 players that would love to be in this position. Our guys have no quit. I know this team. They’ve given everything they have.”
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 4 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads 3-1)
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)
The Islanders already have the experience of an elimination game in these playoffs having won game seven against the Flyers, a series the Islanders led 3-1 before losing two games in a row. They already know what the feeling is like to be playing to keep their season alive and that could help them on Tuesday night.
“I think so,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee. “We found ourselves in a game seven. We had two opportunities to close out the Flyers and they kept themselves alive. It’s going to be no different (Tuesday). “Our backs are against the wall and we have that chance to pull ourselves out of it.”
The Islanders are 27-21 all-time when facing elimination, but they’re facing a statistic now that really put’s into perspective how difficult it’s going to be for them to win the series. Tampa Bay has a 3-1 series lead for the ninth time in franchise history and they have won all eight previous series with seven of them wrapped up in game five.
It’s going to take three straight wins to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Islanders are taking this one step at a time, one shift at a time, one period at a time and one game at a time.
“That’s all that it really comes down to now is short term focus,” said Islanders forward Mat Barzal. “We haven’t put ourselves in a great spot. “It’s going to be a good test for this group and I think you’re going to see our best (in game five).”
While coming back from a 3-1 deficit seems like a daunting task, especially against a really good Lightning team, NHL history will show that it’s not impossible. There have been 29 teams that have trailed three games to one and have rallied to win in seven including four teams that were down 3-0.
Just last year, the San Jose Sharks were down 3-1 against the Vegas Golden Knights and came back to win. A rally has to start somewhere and for the Islanders, it all starts with taking care of business in game five.
It’s more than a cliché for the Islanders. It’s their mentality.
“It really is,” said Trotz. “You’re going to give us all the stats and the likelihood of us coming back but you gotta keep living the dream or the miracle. If you think of it as three games, it seems like a lot. But if you just think about hey, we just win a game tomorrow, it doesn’t seem as big. Let’s win the first period and go from there. Right now, it’s worrying about tomorrow’s game and if we get tomorrow’s game it’s 3-2. Who knows how it plays out after that but you gotta get to 3-2?”
The Islanders have navigated their way through the return to play training camp, traveling to the bubble in Toronto, and knocking off Florida, Washington and Philadelphia to advance to Edmonton and the Eastern Conference Final. After a blowout loss in game one, the last three games of the series could have gone either way and now the Islanders hope to tip the scales back the other way and find a way to shut down Tampa Bay.
“It’s the Eastern Conference Final and you have an opportunity to pull yourself right back into this thing,” said Lee. “We’re still alive here. There’s no sense of doubt or anything like that. To get to where we want to go, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be all roses. You’re not going to come out of these things just by wanting it. You gotta go out there and do it.”
It’s easier said than done, but not impossible. But the Islanders can’t win three games at once. Their focus is squarely on game five.