SUNRISE, Fla. — Just because something is weird, daunting and somewhat disorienting doesn’t make it bad. The Islanders and Panthers both were OK with playing on back-to-back nights, which is extremely rare in the playoffs.
Conflicts at both BB&T Center here and at Barclays Center created an unusual scheduling configuration for this series, which began with the Islanders’ 5-4 win Thursday night. Instead of having a day off to think, practice and rest, they played again Friday night — without a complaint.
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“Getting back after it is good for our hockey team,” Panthers forward Garrett Wilson said yesterday morning. The Islanders, meanwhile, embraced the idea of building momentum. Fact is, both sides generally liked it when they played on successive nights during the regular season. It showed. The Islanders were 9-3-3 in the second half of back-to-back dates, the Panthers were 8-4-2.
“We’re a better team when we don’t sit around and wait,” coach Jack Capuano said after team meetings yesterday morning. “We want to use our speed. We didn’t play well [Thursday] night. We know that. We want to get right back in there. I think guys are comfortable with that. I think we’ve prepared them for that. I always want to make sure we’re one of the best conditioned teams in the league.”
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said after the optional morning skate (the fact that it was optional was a result of having finished a game only 12 hours earlier): “For me, I think it’s good. I like the way we play in back-to-back games. Both teams didn’t have to travel, obviously, so it makes them a little fresher. There’s no issue there for me. I’m glad we’re playing tonight because we lost last night.”
During the regular season, back-to-back dates almost always involve going from one city to another. But the playoffs are different because the games are so much more physical, intense and draining.
“We don’t really have an option,” the Islanders’ Frans Nielsen said before Game 2. “I’m sure both teams feel the game from [Thursday], but I think we have a deep team here. We’ve got four lines, so we’ve just got to keep going. It’s not a big issue.”
Ryan Strome, whose third-period goal turned out to be the difference Thursday night, said, “Going back to the hotel [Thursday] night was different than what we’re used to.” But he added the undeniable bottom line for two tired teams: “There shouldn’t be much problem getting up for a playoff game.”