Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
It was about 11 a.m. Friday, and Matt Martin was talking about bouncing back psychologically from the Islanders’ horrific overtime loss to the Lightning three days earlier.
“I think it’s the reporters’ jobs and the fans’ jobs to get overly emotional about things,” he said after the morning skate in advance of Game 4 of the second-round playoff series. “But we try to take it in stride.”
Less than 12 hours later, there was Martin again, standing by his locker and discussing the need to erase a crushing overtime loss from the team’s collective memory, this time by a score of 2-1.
Someone asked how the Islanders can resist being frustrated after playing pretty well in two consecutive overtime losses.
Martin said, “Yeah, I thought it was probably our two best games of the playoffs, to be honest.
“We were getting the bounces in the Florida series. They’re getting the bounces right now. We just have to fight through it, can’t be too frustrated.”
Even though I lack professional training in psychology and do not know Mr. Martin well enough to read his mind, let’s just say his tone and body language were more convincing in the morning.
So in addition to now having to beat the talented, experienced Lightning three consecutive times to advance, the Islanders must beat back their own dark thoughts.
What faces them starting Sunday in Tampa and ending — they hope — back there for Game 7 on Thursday night is not only a hockey challenge but a mental one.
They believe they were the better team in Games 3 and 4, or at least an equal one, yet here they are, down 3-1 and on the verge of a Monday morning tee time.
If they can shrug this off, well, bully for them, but the rest of us will believe it when we see it.
Check out what coach Jack Capuano said when asked about potential changes for Game 5: “Well, honestly, it may sound crazy, but the last two games we played pretty good against a good team, so I don’t know . . . We played two solid games.
“It’s not like you can go in there and break this thing down and they have an advantage and won the territorial battle. It wasn’t like that.”
Said Martin, “I thought we played a pretty good game, obviously didn’t capitalize on some opportunities. Just need to do a little more and find a way to win.”
Well, there is that. Asked what is missing for the Islanders, Ryan Strome said, simply, “Winning.”
John Tavares, the team’s captain and star, has had a quiet series after a brilliant one against the Panthers. During Game 4, he appeared to be rotating his left shoulder as if it were bothering him.
Asked about it after the game, he answered quickly and bluntly (and perhaps not completely honestly): “I’m completely fine.”
Tavares insisted the team still believes in itself and will not suffer a crisis in confidence. But as for the theory the Islanders deserve better than a 3-1 deficit, he said, “Yeah, I think you can say that.”
Kyle Okposo also did not disagree that the Islanders had played well, but when it comes to breaks going against the team, he wasn’t buying it, saying, “You have to earn them. I just felt like we did a pretty good job tonight, played a pretty good hockey game, but we have to go out there and try to make plays.”
The Islanders now have played 10 postseason games and have had five go to overtime — four of those at home. They won the first three and have lost the last two. That’s hockey, Suzyn.
The Islanders know that intellectually. Emotionally? We shall see.
Back to Friday morning, when Martin said, “You just have to have a pretty tight thing going on in your brain where you understand what’s at stake . . . You can’t let the emotions of it get the best of you.”
Easier said than done, more so now than ever.