WASHINGTON - If you have watched the Islanders this season, or for the past 22, you knew this was not going to be as easy as it looked for the first game and a half. And if you haven't, just suffice it to say that this is the playoffs.
Weird things happen: Someone takes ill and his replacement does better. A player breaks his stick at the wrong time, maybe twice. A team takes its foot off the gas pedal and, instead of being up two games to none, it's tied. It happens.
Buckle up, settle in and get ready for a long series. As bad as the Islanders looked late in the second and through the third period of their 4-3 loss to the Capitals Friday night, things could be worse. Nassau Coliseum, here they come.
"Going home, splitting the first two games, that's a pretty positive outlook," said Cal Clutterbuck, whose goal at 5:14 of the first period looked as if it would send the Islanders on their way. "You can dwell on the lead that we gave up, but it is what it is. It's a positive situation for us and a good opportunity to go home.
"It's a lot better than being down 2-0. It's a best-three-out- of-five now and we've got two games at home coming up."
The Islanders arrived in these playoffs in a good way, and we're not talking about the nice, scenic 45-minute bus ride from their hotel in Annapolis, Maryland. They showed right from the start of their convincing 4-1 win in Game 1 that they are neither inhibited by the occasion nor just happy to be here. John Tavares hit it squarely Friday morning when he used the word "urgency." The playoffs are all about urgency.
It looked, though, as if the Capitals were going to be beyond urgency into full-fledged desperation. The Islanders had them on the ropes, up 2-0 and 3-1 against minor-league call-up goalie Philipp Grubauer.
"In the beginning, I thought we were actually pretty aggressive. The first half of the game, we were pretty good," Tavares said. "I thought we did a good job, we had some good legs, we did good things to generate some chances. When we got a 3-1 lead, we got a little less aggressive."
Twice the Islanders found themselves playing with five skaters and only four sticks. Broken sticks gave the Capitals the equivalent of a couple of power plays, and they scored on both. Grubauer got more confident and, before you knew it, the 3-1 second-period lead turned into a 4-3 defeat.
If the Islanders lose this series, they will look back on this game as the time they let it slip away. But they can't think like that now.
"At this point, when you are in the playoffs, you have to have a short memory," coach Jack Capuano said.
In the midst of a series, you've just got to roll with the tide. The Islanders have made the best of it so far, commuting from a site near the U.S. Naval Academy because a big block of rooms was not available in the nation's capital. Cherry blossom time evidently draws people like crazy, but the Islanders actually liked the isolation and togetherness.
They can take pride that they led a series, in games, for the first time since 2003 and only the second time since their last series triumph in 1993. It was a good sign that Ryan Strome became the first Islander to score a game-winner in his playoff debut since Clark Gillies did it in the franchise's first playoff game 40 years ago.
It's a best-of-five now and the Islanders have what might be the best home-ice advantage in the league.
"We made silly mistakes, especially me," Nick Leddy said, knowing it's not the end of the world. "It's the playoffs. We've got another game in a couple of days."