TAMPA, Fla. — The Islanders and Lightning simply do not know each other well enough to feel a strong sense of dislike, but they are getting there. Other than the occasional bruise or scrape, an edge to this series couldn’t hurt. Judging from Saturday, it definitely could help the Islanders.
No, this is not advocating the chippiness that marked the end of Game 2, which the Islanders rather listlessly lost, 4-1, here at Amalie Arena. But it will be good for them to leave behind the numbing humidity of Florida, where they have been since Tuesday, and get back to Brooklyn, where there will be some bite in the air.
Game 2 had more of an edge than Game 1 did, which is natural because that is the way it goes in playoff series. It would be a positive for the Islanders if the trend toward bitterness continues because they need a little extra something that definitely was not there for them Saturday. As Frans Nielsen said, “I think we played a little bit too pretty.”
“We’ve got to make sure, win or lose, they feel it over there. We’re expecting a long series here and we’ve got to make sure that we’re tough to play against,” Nielsen said.
As much as most of the players and coach Jack Capuano said that the Islanders’ intensity level was just fine Saturday, it was no match for what Lightning coach Jon Cooper had called “the panic factor.” His team is 6-0 in Game 2s over the past two years, having gone 2-4 in Game 1s. The Islanders did not have a physical or emotional reservoir that went as deep as “panic.”
They did, though, get agitated as the game went on, which could bode well for the home games. It was no secret that Game 1 here was more of a Lady Byng caliber (in honor of the trophy for gentlemanly play). Even Casey Cizikas’ big hit that knocked Erik Condra out of that game was later classified by most everyone concerned as “a hockey play.”
Cooper remarked the next day that there were no scrums after any of the whistles, unlike the general nastiness of his team’s opening series against the Red Wings. A big reason for that is the playoff format that has a wild card team such as the Islanders crossing divisional lines to play a rather unfamiliar opponent. The Lightning coach, a Hofstra graduate, knows enough about New York hockey to say that the tone from the outset would have been much different had it been an Islanders-Rangers playoff.
Anyway, the longer a series goes on — no matter who is in it — nerves become jangled and tempers become short. “As the games go on, the intensity keeps picking up and the more you battle against each other, the blood starts to boil,” John Tavares said, having been held scoreless for a change. “There are going to be guys fighting hard. That’s part of it.”
Thomas Greiss, the Islanders goalie, saw a lot of hard feelings close-up and was involved in some of the shoving. He figured the game was going to be like that, what with the Lightning facing the desperate prospect of leaving home with a 2-0 deficit. “It’s their home turf. They’re going to come back hard,” Greiss said.
So what does that mean for the Islanders at Barclays Center on Tuesday? “We’ve got to do the same thing,” the goalie said. “It’s playoff time, a tough series. We’ve got to be tough.”
Tavares spoke of playing with “come controlled emotion” and being able to “feed off” the Brooklyn crowd that clearly carried the Islanders from a two-goal deficit to an overtime win in Game 3 of the first series.
Johnny Boychuk talked about looking at the video of this defeat. When the Islanders do that, they will see that they did not have a great game, by any measure. Watching the tape is likely to put them in a worse mood, like somebody stuck behind a stalled car on the BQE. Which is the way toward progress.