The Islanders find themselves fortunate to be heading home to Brooklyn for Game 3 of their second-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning tied at one, taking the home ice advantage away from last season's Stanley Cup finalists with a 5-3 victory in the opener before losing 4-1 Saturday.
Over the course of the two games in Florida, some disturbing numbers jump out when analyzing via waronice.com. The Lightning have outshot the Islanders 67-42, including 28-10 over the final two periods in Game 1 and 26-8 over the final two periods in Game 2. They have generated 59 scoring chances to New York's 41 (44-33 at even strength). Of those, 27 are considered 'high-danger scoring chances' to the Islanders 11 (22-8 5-on-5). Had it not been for some shoddy defending and a couple of soft goals allowed by Ben Bishop in the opener, in addition to some strong goaltending by Thomas Greiss, this is easily a 2-0 series for Tampa.
But it isn't, and there are instances, hopefully such as these for New York, where you draw inspiration that maybe the puck is not always bouncing for the other team and you too can have the hockey gods smile favorably upon thee.
The way the Barclays Center erupted in Games 3, 4 and 6 of the opening-round against the Florida Panthers certainly has the Islanders feeling good about returning to their new home for three of the possible final five games of the series.
The fans came out and supported their team remarkably, making Brooklyn feel more like Long Island of 2014-15. We learned that Barclays can put on a pretty good show and the building, contrary to some belief, emits decibel levels fairly well. The ice is still a work in progress, due to a shoddy sub-floor, but it certainly was no better in Florida this spring or even Amalie Arena over the course of the opening games in the Sunshine State.
While New York draws upon the crowd, that will not be enough to defeat a team that is as well-coached, disciplined and experienced as the Lightning. The move by Jon Cooper to reunite his 'triplets' line from last year, featuring Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, ran the Islanders ragged at even strength and produced two goals and two assists in Game 2. Victor Hedman rebounded to play a superb Game 2, logging 27:35 on the ice and neutralizing powerhouse Islanders star John Tavares.
Two Islanders who have to pick up their game considerably are Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo. Neither has been effective in the early going at Tampa and Nelson was alarmingly bad Sunday. Coach Jack Capuano said in a Sunday morning conference call that Josh Bailey was skating with the Sound Tigers and could be ready for Game 3 along with Ryan Pulock, who has been in regular practice the last couple of days. Pulock would almost certainly replace Marek Zidlicky, who has been slow defensively and has shown an almost unexplainable reluctance to shoot the puck on the power play.
"At this point, now we're going back home, for sure there could be some (defense) changes or some line combination changes," Capuano said Saturday. "Absolutely."
On Sunday, New York recalled six players on loan from the Sound Tigers, who were swept in the opening round of the Calder Cup playoffs by Tornoto. Goaltender Christopher Gibson, defenseman Scott Mayfield and forwards Bracken Kearns, Michael Dal Colle, Justin Florek and Marc-Andre Cliche made their way to the practice squad. None are expected to play, but rather gain valuable experience that could assist in their development.
Make no mistake, if the Islanders play their best game, they can defeat the Lightning, who are more than a couple of steps up from the Florida Panthers team that New York conquered in round one. They had regular-season success against Tampa, winning two of three and chasing Ben Bishop twice. But the playoffs are an entirely different animal. And the Islanders, don't forget, are this deep in the tournament for the first time in 23 years. There are bound to be some lessons to be learned.
If they learn them on the fly, they could find themselves playing for an entry into the Stanley Cup final. If they can't, an interesting summer awaits for a team that might look markedly different when training camp begins in September.