Last season, the Islanders were two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the bubble, but their playoff run ended with an overtime loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the Eastern Conference Final. Fast forward a season and the Islanders were right back in the same situation trailing Tampa Bay three games to two and needing an overtime win in game six to keep their season alive. This time, the Islanders staved off elimination with a 3-2 win over the Lightning at Nassau Coliseum thanks to an overtime goal from Anthony Beauvillier.
And now, the scene is set for the decisive seventh game of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Friday night in Tampa (8pm NBCSN) with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.
Does this Islanders team need a message from Head Coach Barry Trotz?
“You get to a game seven you know what’s at stake,” said Trotz. You play all year to get to this point. You got one opportunity and it will be there. Just stay in the moment. Enjoy it. Embrace it and don’t get small. Don’t get wound up. Stay calm and give your best effort.”
Islanders vs Lightning (Series tied 3-3)
Game 1…Sunday June 13th…Islanders 2 Lightning 1…
Game 2…Tuesday June 15th…Lightning 4 Islanders 2…
Game 3…Thursday June 17th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1…
Game 4…Saturday June 19th…Islanders 3 Lightning 2…
Game 5…Monday June 21st…Lightning 8 Islanders 0…
Game 6…Wednesday June 23rd…Islanders 3 Lightning 2 F/OT…
Game 7…Friday June 25th…Islanders at Lightning…8pm NBCSN
This has been an interesting post-season for the Islanders who have had to battle back from 2-1 deficits in the first two rounds against the Penguins and Bruins to win both series in six games. In this round, the Islanders were also down two games to one and once again won game four on home ice to even the series. But, when the series went back to Tampa for game five, the Islanders were blown out 8-0 and then they needed that game six win to force a seventh game.
Another aspect of this post-season that the Islanders have had to overcome is that they’ve played 18 playoff games and not one time have they had the lead after the first period.
Somehow, the Islanders have found ways to survive.
“We’ve always kind of shown up,” said Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck. “And we’ll continue to show up. That’s kind of what we are. It’s just…it’s who we are.”
What the Islanders have to be in game seven is the team that opened this series with a 2-1 road win in game one. They were able to shake off the disaster that was game five in Tampa and rally from 2-0 down to win game six, but if the Islanders are going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984, they’re going to need a special effort on Friday and that includes trying to get on the board first. In 183 all-time game sevens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team that scored first is 137-46 (.749) and 2-0 so far in the 2021 playoffs.
The Islanders are prepared for a big push by the Lightning from the start at home at Amalie Arena where they are 5-3 during this post-season.
“They’re going to be a different team at home,” said Trotz. “They have been so we just gotta to be ready for it.”
This will be just the tenth game seven in Islanders postseason and the Isles have a 4-5 record in the previous nine with all but one of those games played on the road. That includes a “road” game seven against the Flyers in the second round of last season’s playoffs in the bubble, a game that the Islanders won 4-0. The Islanders can draw a little bit from that experience but that game was played in an empty arena while Friday’s game will take place in front of a full house in Tampa.
The Islanders mindset is that while it is a game seven, it is also just one game out of seven. However, there is a lot of the line in this one game.“ For myself and the team, you don’t really think of it as a game seven,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “It’s another hockey game that you gotta bring your best. Win and you move on. Lose and go home. For us, our focus is going to be on the right things and we’re going to be ready to go and ready to bring our best.”
The last time that the Islanders won a game six at home and then a game seven on the road to win the series was in 1993 against the Penguins when David Volek scored in overtime of game seven in Pittsburgh. They also did it in 1975 when they trailed the Penguins three games to none and came back to win the series in seven games. In 1987, the Islanders trailed the Capitals three games to one and came back to win the series thanks to Pat LaFontaine’s goal in the fourth overtime of game seven, otherwise known as “The Easter Epic” at the Capital Centre.
A game seven can be pretty special and there are opportunities for just about anything so there’s no sense on dwelling on what happened previously in a series.
“You have to stay present,” said Trotz. “You have to be in the moment and create that moment whatever that moment may be. When all the dust has settled, you define those defining moments because you don’t know when they come and they come at the strangest times and there’s unlikely heroes and there’s the strange things that happen that are out of everybody’s control.”
When you’re talking about a game seven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there generally tends to be some drama. 91 out of the 183 (49.7%) prior game sevens have been one goal games while 45 game sevens (24.6%) have required overtime. The road team has always had a fighting chance in a game seven as the home team has a record of 106-77 (.579).
It’s been 37 years since the Islanders last appeared in a Stanley Cup Final. All that is separating themselves from finally returning is a little old road win over the defending Stanley Cup champs in Tampa on Friday night.
Even though the Islanders really don’t need a reminder of what’s at stake, you can be sure that they’ve received the message loud and clear as to what they need to do on Friday night.