PITTSBURGH — Spoiler alert for the Islanders’ media relations staff: Do not let your coaches, players and especially team president Lou Lamoriello read anything past this sentence. Thank you.
Now that it is just us outsiders talking . . . Even for cautious fans determined to take nothing for granted, it is impossible not to daydream about what could come next while waiting for Game 4 on Tuesday.
That is not only because of the Islanders’ 3-0 first-round series lead over the Penguins. It is in part because of events elsewhere, specifically in Tampa and Columbus.
The Lightning, by far the best team in the NHL in the regular season, are on the ropes, trailing the Blue Jackets 3-0.
If Columbus wins that series, as 186 of 190 teams have done when in this position, the door to the Stanley Cup Final out of the Eastern Conference will swing wide open.
Aside from the Lightning, the conference’s other seven playoff teams were separated by 10 points in the regular season, and there would be no strong favorite among them.
I am not trying to jinx this for Islanders fans. The Penguins have the talent to win four in a row, even if in Game 3 they looked old, frustrated and increasingly disinterested. So feel free to fret if you wish.
The point is that this bonus of a playoff season under new management is on the verge of morphing from unexpected pleasure to serious opportunity.
If the Islanders and Blue Jackets take care of business, the most consequential second-round series in the league could be Islanders vs. Capitals, who last June won the Stanley Cup under Islanders coach Barry Trotz.
Bookmakers seem to think so. Panama-based BetOnline released eye-popping odds as of Monday, listing the Islanders at 7-1 to win the Stanley Cup, second only among the 16 playoff teams to the Capitals, at 5-1.
So this is getting real.
First there is a game to play Tuesday against an opponent that won Cups in 2016 and 2017 and whose power-play unit is a mini-All-Star team.
That was all Trotz and his players wanted to talk or think about after practice Monday, which is as it should be.
After Game 3, Cal Clutterbuck made a crack about the cliches he was about to spout about taking it one game at a time, then proceeded to spout them. On Monday, he said it was no joke.
“Cliches are cliches because they’re actually true,” he said. “If you fake it, it shows. It’s one thing to say the words, it’s another thing to try and live by them. I think we’re trying to embody them.”
His linemate, Matt Martin, said the Penguins “definitely” are a team that can storm back if given the chance.
“You don’t want to give those guys any life; they have some of the best players in the world,” he said. “They probably have the best player in the world [Sidney Crosby], and I don’t think he’s going to go away quietly.”
After Game 3, it appeared the Islanders were determined not to so much as smile once reporters were allowed into their dressing room.
On Monday, I asked captain Anders Lee if it was a strategy the players specifically discussed or if it happened organically.
“I think it happens pretty organically,” Lee said. “We talk about it, but we just put ourselves in a good position. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Technically true. And that is what you want to hear if you are a fan.
But if you are a fan, you cannot help but hear a voice in your head whispering about bigger doings ahead.