Isles have Penguins right where they want them
Mark HerrmannMark Herrmann
Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,
Normally, this would be pretty gloomy business. But of course, there is nothing normal about this series for the Islanders. So from that perspective, there is only one way to look at their 4-0 loss here Thursday night: It was just a setup for a wild one Saturday night.
Anyway, it would not have fit the vibe of this series if the Islanders had gone ahead. The Islanders have been at their best with something to overcome, a fact that will not be lost on the crowd at Nassau Coliseum in Game 6, with the Islanders facing elimination Saturday. The atmosphere will be off the charts and probably straight off the pages of history.
For the Islanders to win a playoff series for the first time in 20 years, they are going to have to do it the same way they won their last one: trailing a heavily favored Penguins team three games to two. Yes, yes, everything is different, especially the makeup of the rosters. But the spirit will be the same and the spirit -- fans chanting and stomping so loud before the game that players in the locker room eschewed their normal motivational pregame music -- carried them to a Game 6 win in 1993.
This will be the third time in the series that these Islanders are behind by a game, and so far they are 2-for-2 in tying it up. So it should be interesting.
"As I told the team after the game, our backs have been against the wall before,'' coach Jack Capuano said.
It was hard to tell whose absence hurt them more Thursday night, Andrew MacDonald's or Marc-Andre Fleury's. MacDonald is the Islanders' best defenseman, out with what a source called a broken hand. Without him, the Islanders let Kris Letang's pass find Tyler Kennedy, who got behind Radek Martinek (a defensive replacement) for a breakaway.
Later, Thomas Hickey (another replacement) and Mark Streit couldn't prevent Sidney Crosby from threading through and past them for a vintage Crosby goal that made it 3-0 (in between, Evgeni Nabokov bobbled a soft shot, allowing a goal that resembled a passed ball with a runner on third). Overall, though, Capuano said, "I thought our 'D' was good."
On the other end, Tomas Vokoun, despite a shaky start, was solid. He played because Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had seen more than enough of Fleury. Vokoun excelled, unlike Nabokov, who has yet to have an exceptional game in this series and was pulled 5:43 into the third.
All of this ramps up the urgency for Saturday, and the Islanders major in urgency.
"For us, it's two Game 7s right now,'' Streit, the captain, said.
"I think they have nothing to lose,'' Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. "They have no pressure there. They just come out and play. We gave them some confidence early and now they have that.''
To their credit, the Islanders have not gone into a shell, trying to keep it close and hoping for opponents' mistakes and a miracle. They have insisted on playing a fast game, even though that means taking chances. If anything, they got away from that Thursday night in the second period.
That likely won't happen again Saturday. "It's going to be just like it has been the first two,'' Colin McDonald said, referring to Games 3 and 4 on Long Island. "We're excited to get our home game and feed off that crowd.''
The most consistent performers in this series (with the possible exception of Kyle Okposo) have been the Islanders' faithful. Fans have risen to the occasion, possibly sensing that any home game could conceivably be the final big one forever at the Coliseum. They are not going to let it go with a whimper.
It has been loud and it will be louder. True, the Islanders are on the brink of being eliminated. But the series also might be on the verge of getting extremely interesting.