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Islanders' resilience will be tested with series tied against Flyers

Thomas Greiss of the Islanders stops a shot

Thomas Greiss of the Islanders stops a shot against the Flyers during the second period in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

Josh Bailey spelled out the game plan for the most important night yet of the Islanders’ season: good food, hydrate, rest.

But that only covered the physical part of the brief rest between games of a second-round playoff series against the Flyers in Toronto.

The mental part will be equally important after an emotional whirlwind of a loss in Game 2, in which they fell behind 3-0, pulled their goaltender, tied it with 2:09 left in regulation time, then lost, 4-3, in overtime.

One school of thought is that failed comebacks can breed confidence. But another is that they are more difficult to recover from than a complete flop that can be dismissed quickly.

Who knows? All we know for sure is that after a month in which many of us have said and written nice things about the Islanders’ maturity and mettle, this is their biggest test to date.

Coach Barry Trotz called Game 3 on Thursday night a “swing game,” which it obviously is, and now uncertainty swirls around it, too.

In hockey terms, we do not know who will start in goal, after Semyon Varlamov broke a 40-year-old Islanders record for consecutive scoreless playoff minutes, then promptly gave up three goals and was yanked.

Thomas Greiss was flawless before Philippe Myers’ overtime game-winner that took a weird bounce off the shaft of Anders Lee’s stick.

Trotz has been saying all season he considers his goaltenders equally capable. The vote here is that he go bold and put Greiss back in net in hopes of finding a new hot hand.

In the broader world, too, the Islanders confronted difficult questions about far more important matters within minutes after the game ended.

Reporters asked in Zoom interviews about player boycotts that began to spread from the NBA to the WNBA to Major League Baseball while the Islanders were on the ice, and they understandably were reluctant to comment until they had more information.

But even in a “bubble” in Toronto, the issue of social justice in the United States and beyond can and should penetrate.

Assuming the NHL carries on, the Islanders will have to find a way past the Game 2 disappointment if they wish to outlast the Flyers.

“This one stings a little bit because we worked so hard to get back,” Lee said, “but there’s no other choice but to look on to tomorrow and regroup and try to recover.

“You’re going to face adversity at times, and I think we faced it a little bit tonight and overcame a little bit of it, but obviously we were a little bit short. So we’ll grow and learn from this and move on.”

Said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored the tying goal, “We knew it was going to be a long and hard series, and I know our team is prepared for it. We’re going to bounce back and give our all tomorrow again.”

In 2019, the Islanders were swept in the second round by the Hurricanes. In 2016, they won the first game of a second-round series against the Lightning, then lost four in a row.

They have not won twice in a second-round series since 1993 – winning their second game over the Penguins on Matt Martin’s fourth birthday.

This is no time to let this opportunity slip away. They proved for most of Wednesday they are fully capable of beating the top-seeded Flyers four times.

First, as Trotz said, they have to “let it go” after Game 2 got away.

“You can’t get the game that just happened; you’ve got to get the next one,” he said. “In the playoffs, you almost have to be like a goaltender.

“You let one in, you just have to focus on the next save and tomorrow the next save will be Game 3, so we’ll have to focus on that.”

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