It is one of the oddities of the postseason that the Islanders had two full days to savor a two-games-to-one lead in their Stanley Cup playoff series, while on the ice, they have led for only 17 minutes and 27 seconds. What that shows is there is no rational way to explain what has gone on or predict what is next, especially if you’re looking backward.
There is a temptation to reflect on where the Islanders stand, entering Game 4 at home with a one-game advantage, and see that they were in the exact same position last year. They lost that game, and the series against the Capitals. All of which will mean nothing Wednesday night.
In this age of analytics in sports, people assume that something is going to happen because it has happened before. But the fact is, the Islanders are different this year. They have a different goalie, a few different players, a different level of experience, a different home rink and a different opponent. Their series against the Panthers might wind up the same as the series against the Capitals did, but it will be because this is an even matchup and any game can turn on a dime. Not because history insists on repeating itself.
Game 3 was another triumph of the unexpected. The Islanders led only once, at the final instant of overtime on Thomas Hickey’s goal. That was not all.
If your statistical analysis predicted that a defenseman as young as Ryan Pulock, 21, was going to score an important playoff goal, you must have researched every Islanders game back to 1990. That was when Wayne McBean, 21, scored against the Rangers (McBean was better known for having dated actress Alyssa Milano).
If your computer model told you that a defenseman was going to score the overtime goal, you have quite the database. The last Islander to do that was Ken Morrow on April 10, 1984 (that was the Don Maloney Game, the one in which the Rangers forward forced overtime by tipping in a shot with what might have been a high stick). Hickey also was the first Islanders defenseman since Morrow to score his first career playoff goal in overtime. Morrow did it in Game 3 of a best-of-five opening-round series in 1980 against the Kings, one of the most underrated big moments in franchise history.
“That’s cool,” Hickey said after practice Tuesday of being connected with Morrow, now the Islanders’ director of pro scouting. “I’ve met him before because he’s still working with the team. So I’ve seen him a few times. His face is everywhere, he’s a big part of the organization.”
Sure, many of Hickey’s teammates are motivated by the quirky way they lost Game 4 to the Capitals at home in 2015 — John Tavares’ stick broke at the pivotal moment in overtime. Then again, others have absolutely no scar tissue from that night. For Pulock, the playoffs are completely new. He never will forget the roar that erupted after his momentum-turning power-play goal Sunday. “It kind of gives you chills,” he said.
Then there is the fresh perspective of Alan Quine. Not only was he not on the Islanders last year, he wasn’t even here two weeks ago. He was called up from Bridgeport on April 9 and has been a revelation. “Whatever stage you’re on, hockey is hockey,” he said. “I’ve been wanting the chance for a while and if I got the opportunity, I wanted to take full advantage. You can’t go out there and play nervous.”
You definitely can’t play nervous about ghosts from 12 months ago, or the fact that the Islanders have not won successive playoff games since 2002 or that they have not won a series since 1993. Wednesday night isn’t yesterday. It is merely what Matt Martin called it: “The biggest game of our season.”
That is, this season.