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The Islanders appreciate the fun of Game 3 despite the loss

Adam Pelech of the New York Islanders checks

Adam Pelech of the New York Islanders checks David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum on June 3, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Of course, winning matters. We all were taught that many years ago by famed sports prophet Herman Edwards. And that goes triple in the playoffs.

But as the Islanders sought to put Game 3 of their second-round playoff series against the Bruins in perspective – and prepare for Game 4 on Saturday night – they took a moment on Friday to stop and smell the ice shavings.

"If I wasn’t coaching in it, I’d be glued to the TV every night, because this is a hell of a series right now," coach Barry Trotz said. "It’s a physical, determined series by both teams.

"So I’m excited: Saturday night crowd in the Coliseum, Boston Bruins-New York Islanders. Doesn’t get much better than that."

Winning Game 4 would make it better than that, because it would even the series and ensure the Islanders at least one more game at the Old Barn.

But Trotz’s point is well-taken and could be part of his team’s coping mechanism to move past a 2-1 overtime loss on Thursday. If it was an enjoyable experience despite the disappointing finish, it could not have been that bad. Right?

"It was a good game," Nick Leddy said on Friday. "It was definitely a fun game to be a part of, but obviously we didn’t come out on top, which is unfortunate."

Immediately after the game, Mathew Barzal struck a similar tone, saying, "It was a good game . . . It was an exciting game. Our group battled hard, and so did they. It’s been like that the last three games."

To no one’s surprise, the crowd of 12,000 – the largest at the Coliseum in about 15 months – was on its game, delivering an energizing soundtrack to a night full of big hits and big saves.

There was a buzz before and during the game befitting the first second-round playoff game at the Coliseum in 28 years, with concessions stands finally alive and even long lines back for the restrooms. (One of the many reasons the time has come for a new arena.)

It was the kind of backdrop national television craves, and it seemed to inspire the players from both teams. Add to that the subplot regarding the Islanders’ imminent departure, and the event more than delivered as showbiz.

Easy for me to say, though. What for neutral observers is entertainment can be torture for avid fans, and it does not get any more torturous than one of the league’s most notorious agitators, Brad Marchand, scoring the game-winner from an absurd angle. Yuck.

That was what made the Islanders’ take interesting. They want to win as much as any fan could want them to, but they were able to appreciate being a part of something special.

Again: It could be a coping mechanism, or spin for media consumption. But hockey people skew heavily toward chronic sincerity, and this came off as genuine.

The task facing the Islanders is great. The Bruins have more firepower among their forwards than the Islanders do, a steady goaltender, two more games at home if needed and now a 2-1 series lead.

It is not even clear who will be in goal for the Islanders on Saturday, as Trotz continues to deploy both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. (The vote here is to stick with Varlamov for Game 4, but I don’t have a vote.)

Beating the Bruins three times in four games will be a challenge, to put it gently.

But one can anticipate the message Trotz will have for his players before they take the ice to another raucous ovation on Saturday night: Have fun.

New York Sports