Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
WASHINGTON - Here's to inexperience. There is something to be said for going into any situation brand new: It is all fresh and exciting, and you don't have any bad memories to hold you back.
So Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome showed Wednesday night. Strome was completely new to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Nelson might as well have been -- he played only seven minutes in Game 6 two years ago. On one hand, you could say that they looked like they had been in the playoffs their whole lives. On the other, you could marvel at the unjaded energy they brought to the Islanders' stunning 4-1 win over the Capitals in Game 1 last night.
Those two put it to the Capitals -- Nelson scored the key first goal and added an empty- netter at the end, Strome broke a 1-1 tie -- and to the notion that experience is the biggest key to success in the playoffs.
The conventional thinking is that a neophyte will be filled with indecision, but that was true only to a point. In Nelson's case, it was a matter of choosing between two good options: whether to get pumped up or to treat it like just another game.
"Kind of a little bit of both,'' he said. "You don't want to be panicking and not playing at your skill set. At the same time, the play is elevated a little bit. You find a happy medium.''
His happy medium came up large. Granted, this was not sudden death, but the first goal in a series between equals, after a rough stretch at the end of the regular season, was huge. His shot to the short side at 6:06 of the first made Capitals goalie Braden Holtby look like it was his first time.
"You get a little anxiety, some butterflies, but I think that's a good thing,'' Nelson said. "You use that as motivation and energy. When the game starts, you get a little adrenaline and let that take over.''
After the Capitals tied it with one of those last-minute-of-the-period goals that have been gnawing at the Islanders all season, Strome converted on a faceoff win by John Tavares and scored with a good, quick shot from the left circle.
Strome never looked out of place.
"I think just getting in there and getting a hit or two early and taking a hit or two helped. I tried to get myself into the game a little bit,'' he said. "Obviously, things are fast, a lot of things are flying around, but it was good. It was good to get the win.''
Fact is, both benefited from teammates' experiences. The Islanders who were here two years ago, found Game 1 against the Penguins daunting and a tad intimidating.
"I don't think we'll see that again,'' Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said before the game. He was a Penguin back then. And he was right.
Jack Capuano said, "Sometimes you feel a little bit of pressure as a young guy, coming into a building like this and playing against some veterans that they have in their lineup. I liked their composure. Their emotion was in check and they came up big for us tonight. They skated. And you know, they played with confidence and poise.''
Truth is, bitter experience produced this game. The Islanders and their fans waited patiently through some rough times, confident in the future that will be fueled by first-round picks such as Nelson and Strome. At least as far as those two are concerned, the future arrived Wednesday night.
There figures to be more to come.