The man in charge of all hockey matters for the Islanders watched Games 1 and 2 from a suite at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, heard the noise, duly noted the victories and . . . let’s just say there were no orange towels – or pom-pons – being waved.
When I asked Lou Lamoriello on Saturday to describe his emotions watching the Islanders take a 2-0 first-round lead over the Penguins, this is what he said:
“The emotions are no different than I’ve had in the past in playoffs. This is what you prepare the whole season for. I’m not an emotional person, so I don’t know what that means, but if you’re asking me if you feel good when the end results come out on a positive, absolutely. But you don’t rest on it.
“This is a looong process, and it’s not one that you can get high on and that you can get low on. You just have to stay the course . . . I don’t have any other feeling.”
Partly the above is just Lou being Lou, a Hall of Famer who at 76 has seen and done it all, including three Stanley Cups with the Devils, and is not one to gush to journalists, fans or presumably close friends and relatives.
But partly it is a matter of staying on message. Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, who 10 months ago won a Cup with the Capitals, have the experience to back the standard one-game-at-a-time mantra every team adopts.
Thus when I asked whether Lamoriello still is comfortable with the compromise that allowed the Islanders to play the first round at the Coliseum but subsequent rounds at Barclays Center, he did not bite.
“All I’m concerned about is getting on the flight right now and getting to Pittsburgh and playing the third game,” he said. “I’ll leave that up to you to throw all the hand grenades all the different places that you want to to create a story. All I’m worried about is Pittsburgh.”
Lamoriello did laud the “tremendous help” fans provided at the Coliseum.
“They’ve have been outstanding,” he said. “I don’t know if they realize how important it is to the players and the organization, because of how they uplift you and they just make you feel good in every way.
“It’s just a tremendous atmosphere for our team . . . It’s an extra advantage in everything they’ve done, and it’s been constant.”
There are 14 victories to go before a Cup parade down – um, would it be Hempstead Turnpike or Flatbush Avenue, or the Belmont parking lot? – so, again, there is only so far Lamoriello is willing to go in assessing the season.
But he was willing to acknowledge the obvious: so far, so good.
He said that in watching Games 1 and 2, he felt “a pride” in the players and coaches. The Islanders got here with a roster largely the same as last year’s, minus one of the best players in the world in John Tavares.
“The players, from all my individual meetings when I came here [last May], didn’t like what transpired last year as far as having the stigma of giving up the most goals in the National Hockey League over the last 10 years,” he said.
“They were committed to wanting to do well and were willing to give up whatever individual areas that they played in and they were going to do whatever was asked of them. Of course, that’s only in words when you speak to them, but what they’ve done is they’ve followed through individually and collectively.”
Lamoriello said even as players’ roles changed, they rolled with them, which is more important now than ever.
“No matter how much [ice] time you get, whether it be 30 seconds, 40, whatever, that could be the most important ice time for the whole playoffs,” he said. “So I think they’ve understood that, they’ve accepted that and they’re happy for each other. They want each other to succeed. They know that if the team succeeds, they succeed.”
But, he added, “That has to be sustained; that can’t be dwelled on. Every night is a different night. Every game is a different game, and that’s what you constantly have to remind yourself and they have to remind each other and the coaches have done a tremendous job of it.”
Lamoriello added that the team has overcome challenges “tremendously well,” including its unusual dual-home-arena schedule.
“We fought for everything we had,” he said. “You don’t get 103 points by accident . . . They’ve overcome obstacles. They’ve accepted the traveling. They didn’t allow any distractions to get in the way that might have been abnormal. They deserve tremendous credit for that.”
Lamoriello countered the perception the Islanders are an inexperienced team, noting their many key veterans, and the help they have given young players.
“And, we have a lot of individual people who have points to prove,” he said. “Thomas Greiss wasn’t happy with [last] season and worked very hard during the summer. Robin Lehner’s story is something that’s well documented. We could go right through the whole roster on that . . . I think it’s been [done] collectively.
“It’s not a cliché. It’s real. They’ve done it the right way.”