The Islanders returned to work on Friday, having had two days to bask in the glow of their first-round sweep of the Penguins, and the coaching staff quickly got to the point:
There were push-ups. There were sit-ups. There were sprints. There were simulations of game conditions. There were blunt words.
“Coaches aren’t going to let us slack off in practice; you saw it,” Matt Martin said. “Any time we messed up, we got talked to. We have to bring that intensity in practice that you would normally try to bring to a game.
“I imagine we’ll do a lot of that over the next five to seven days.”
Count on it. The Hurricanes’ victory over the Capitals on Thursday night tied that series at 2-2, so we know there will be a Game 6 on Monday and there could be a Game 7 on Wednesday.
The Islanders last played on Tuesday, so their break is guaranteed to be longer than a week.
This naturally prompted many rust-related questions from reporters after practice, and clearly it is a matter that Barry Trotz and his staff will monitor closely.
The upcoming practice schedule has not been announced beyond Saturday, but other than perhaps Easter Sunday, the Islanders presumably will be on the ice every day between now and Game 1.
That’s fine. But recent history shows that fans concerned about an extended break dulling the Islanders’ edge should relax.
This is not baseball, which takes far less of a physical toll. Players are accustomed to there being a game nearly every day, and for them, long postseason layoffs are more of a reason to fret.
In hockey, there is little evidence in recent years that teams that sweep in one round, then have to wait around, are at a significant disadvantage.
In the five seasons before this one, there were seven sweeps in the NHL, and those teams won six times in the next round after breaks of six to 10 days.
In 2015, the Blackhawks completed a sweep of the Wild on May 7, resumed play on May 17, beat the Ducks in seven games, then won the Stanley Cup Final in six over the Lightning.
Going back further into the early years of the century, there is not a clear pattern. Sweepers lose, sweepers win. Every case is different.
Trotz recalled winning a championship after a 10-day layoff. The 2018 Capitals? Nope. That would be the 1994 Portland Pirates, who won the AHL’s Calder Cup final over Moncton after waiting around from May 10 to 20.
“There’s two schools of thought,” team president Lou Lamoriello said. “I’ll let you know after the series whether it was a problem.”
As Trotz noted on Friday, there is a certain “randomness” to the NHL playoffs, which is both part of their charm and part of what drives supporters of losing teams batty. (Sorry, Lightning fans.)
So why not get some rest, heal some wounds and, even more important, avoid new ones?
On Thursday night, the Capitals lost T.J. Oshie, their second-leading goal-scorer in the regular season, with a serious injury.
Trotz said he was saddened to see one of his former players hurt, but such things are part of the price the Capitals and Hurricanes will pay for their long series.
“Exactly what I’m talking about,” Trotz said. “We’re getting healthy, we’re getting fresh and they’re losing people.”
So push-ups and sit-ups it is for now. Could be worse.
“I’ve been part of a few seven-game series and you get through, but you just wonder how you’re going to feel in the next series,” Martin said. “As long as we take care of our bodies and take care of our minds, mostly that rest will be huge down the stretch.”
Added Anders Lee, “We have to take it for what it is and get our rest in and get some good time to practice and we’ll go hard . . . There’s no point to looking at it in a negative light. We got here in a positive way and we’ll take it and run with it.”