Islanders confident, but it's all about winning
There are no moral victories in the regular season, certainly not for a team with genuine playoff aspirations.
Once in the playoffs, there's even less room to take away something good from a loss. So the Islanders may be feeling good about the way they've played in the past two games of this first-round matchup, but it won't mean much if they can't square the series with the Penguins in Game 4 Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
"If you're satisfied with just being able to compete, that's a recipe for losing,'' Josh Bailey said Monday, a day off the ice for most of the Isles' regulars. "We're not here to try and hang with them and go home having put up a good fight. We're here to win.''
That message surely has sunk in with both teams after the wild emotional swings of the Penguins' 5-4 overtime win on Sunday in Game 3, which could have gone either way.
The Islanders have things that need shoring up, most notably the penalty kill, which allowed three Penguins goals in five power plays, including Chris Kunitz's game-winner 8:44 into OT.
That goal was the only conventional power-play goal of the three. Pittsburgh's first two goals, scored 19 seconds apart, came on a five-on-three and then off a stretch pass breakaway by Kunitz after a nifty feed from Evgeni Malkin.
"I think we've only had one of those happen before, against the Rangers,'' Travis Hamonic said. "When we're on the PK, our clears have to be better. We've had chances to make them go back and retrieve the puck, and they've got five guys who thrive on being set up inside our zone. We just have to be better with that.''
There isn't a whole lot else that the Islanders need to vastly improve heading into Tuesday night. Since about the seven-minute mark of Game 2, the Islanders have been the better team at even strength, using their team speed to generate offense and chaos in the Penguins' zone, turning over pucks and transforming dump-ins into offense in quick fashion.
"We just have to be disciplined, continue what we've been doing five-on-five, and I think the odds are in our favor,'' said Casey Cizikas, who had his first career playoff goal in Game 3.
John Tavares did, too, a pretty big first goal that tied the score with 9:12 to go in the third. The Islanders did not complete the comeback, but that's still a pair of two-goal rallies the last two games, more than enough to give the young Isles confidence that they can play the Penguins in any situation.
So being down 2-1 in the series isn't as daunting as it could be.
"We've had to battle back a few times this year,'' Tavares said. "It's just another game, a huge game, obviously, but we know we've played well and we just need to improve in a few areas. We've outshot them, we've been physical. We just need to put the frustration of the last game behind us and be ready for [Tuesday night].''