The only rooting interest Islanders coach Barry Trotz has had in the Capitals-Hurricanes first-round playoff series is that it went the full seven games.
Now that it has, it’s up to the well-rested but antsy Islanders to use it to their advantage whenever their second-round series begins against the winner of Wednesday night’s Game 7 at Washington. The Hurricanes staved off elimination with Monday night’s 5-2 win at Carolina.
“I think, at this time of the year, you’re trying to get every advantage possible,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “That’s what it’s all about. Everything is so tight, so every little advantage can help you have success. It’s going seven. They’ve got another game and we’ll sit here and wait. It just allows us to get that little more rest and gives us more time.”
The Islanders practiced on Tuesday in East Meadow for the fourth time since completing their four-game sweep of the Penguins with a 3-1 win in Pittsburgh on April 16. The earliest they would play again is on Friday.
The Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan Division behind the Capitals. If the Capitals beat the Hurricanes in Game 7, the Islanders’ next series will open in Washington. Otherwise, Games 1 and 2— and Games 5 and 7, if necessary — against the Hurricanes would be at Barclays Center.
As much as the Islanders are anxious to resume playing as opposed to this unusually long stretch of practices, they also know the physical toll a seven-game series will take on their next opponent.
“I think, at some point, the extra hockey catches up to you no matter who you are,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. “We keep reminding ourselves that we’ve got a formula, we’ve got a plan. As long as we can execute that plan with the intensity we did in the first round and for a better part of the season, I think that will take its toll on the opposition.”
“There’s no doubt we’d never trade the rest for momentum because we know that we’re doing things to make sure it’s not a factor for us,” defenseman Thomas Hickey added. “The onus is on us to take advantage of that. I think the longer the series will go, it’s going to favor the rested team. That’s just the way it is. That’s the benefit to playing four, very good hockey games.”
Hickey is expected to re-enter the lineup with Johnny Boychuk out three-to-four weeks with a lower-body injury suffered when he blocked a shot with his left leg in Game 4 against the Penguins. A week will already have ticked off Boychuk’s injury timetable by the time the Islanders resume playing.
And even if the opponent is crisper at the start of the second-round series becaise they are still in the rhythm of playing while the Islanders are knocking off the rust, the Isles expect their rest to become more and more of an advantage as the next series progresses.
“One hundred percent,” Hickey said. “It’s a grind. Bodies are banged up leaguewide. If it goes one extra game, maybe that guy is 80 percent, or 70 percent. We’ve had a chance to rest up while other teams didn’t finish up quick. It’s a luxury.”
“The two teams that are playing, they don’t have a chance to rest or heal or anything,” Trotz added. “They’ve got to get right back in it. So as hard as you can make it on them, it may not have an effect in Game 1 or Game 2, but maybe later in the series, it does. They’re both very good teams that are very committed and they’ll be playing a team that’s very committed when we get there.”
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