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Islanders could use an offensive jolt for Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning

Oliver Wahlstrom of the Islanders warms up before

Oliver Wahlstrom of the Islanders warms up before a game against the Sabres at Nassau Coliseum on March 7. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Lightning are a hockey puzzle, and the guy charged with solving it is Barry Trotz.

The defending Stanley Cup champions have elite offensive firepower, an elite goaltender, and as they demonstrated to devastating effect in Game 3 on Thursday night, they have a commitment to defense, too.

So what to do in Game 4 on Saturday when the Islanders will try for the third consecutive round to avoid a 3-1 series deficit with a must-have victory at Nassau Coliseum?

Trotz did not go into elaborate detail about his plan when speaking to reporters on Friday — nor should he have — but some of this is not difficult to figure out.

Job One: Score more. But how?

"We’ve got to get to the net a little bit better," said Trotz, who insisted he was pleased overall with his team’s performance in Game 3, considering it a mostly even game.

Later, he added, "They’re hard to get through, and you just have to will yourself inside. You have to create."

The Islanders have five goals in three games against the Bolts after scoring 15 in the last three games of the second round against Boston.

The Lightning are 6-1 on the road in these playoffs and in five of those victories allowed no more than one goal. When they have a lead in the third period, they impose an Islanders-style vise defensively.

"They don’t get enough credit for how good they defend versus [how] they get a lot of credit for how offensive they are," Trotz said. "They don’t get enough recognition for their overall five-man game, which is a defensive game."

One idea for Game 4 would be to add some youth, speed, shooting ability and power-play punch to what has been a very stable — and staid — lineup of late by dressing Oliver Wahlstrom, who turned 21 on Sunday.

That could mean benching Travis Zajac, 36, who has been a useful, versatile player, or perhaps another creative idea to be determined by the coaching staff.

Zajac has a goal and an assist in 10 playoff games. Wahlstrom had one goal and two assists in five games before suffering a lower body injury from which he now is recovered.

Wahlstrom had 12 goals in 44 games in the regular season.

Trotz said he has faith in Wahlstrom but is wary of mixing and matching lines at this stage. He also must consider factors such as the health of Jean-Gabriel Pageau before icing a potential alternative at center such as Zajac.

"This group is used to not a lot of change," the coach said, "so when I throw some of those wrenches in they sometimes go in a little bit of a spin cycle."

Would inserting Wahlstrom solve the Islanders’ offensive problems? Not necessarily. But it is worth a try after two losses in a row and with some sort of jolt needed before this thing slips away.

Also helpful would be a return by the Brock Nelson line to the form it displayed earlier in the playoffs. Anthony Beauvillier had four goals in the Islanders’ first seven playoff games and has none in the eight since.

"[Beauvillier] hasn’t had quite the start that I’d like," Trotz said, "but knowing Anthony and knowing that line, they’ll get it rolling."

The Islanders looked like they belonged against the Lightning for most of the night on Thursday, and for most of the series. But given Tampa’s depth, talent and commitment, the Islanders might have encountered a better version of themselves.

Of course, the Islanders love articles such as this one expressing doubt in them. Responding to adversity and criticism is what they do.

Do Trotz and his men have one more surprise up their sleeves? If so, they best reveal it now.

New York Sports