Alexander Romanov of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena...

Alexander Romanov of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena last January. Credit: Jim McIsaac

RALEIGH, N.C. — When Lou Lamoriello acquired Alexander Romanov last summer, the Islanders president/general manager believed the defenseman’s skating and physicality could help the team get back to the postseason.

The Islanders did return to the playoffs after a one-season absence but Romanov has yet to make his postseason debut in their first-round series against the Hurricanes. He remained out for Wednesday night’s Game 2 at PNC Arena with an upper-body injury after missing the final five games of the regular season.

And even though the Islanders were credited with 43 hits in a physical series opener won, 2-1, by the Hurricanes, Romanov’s ability to throw thunderous checks is missed.

“Yeah, he’s definitely a key player for us,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “He brings a lot of physicality. He’s a very solid defenseman. When you have a guy out, you need guys to fill in and I think Sammy [rookie Samuel Bolduc] has been doing a really good job. He’s asking a lot of questions.”

Still, Bolduc received just 8:51 of ice time in Game 1 as coach Lane Lambert is relying even more heavily on Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson — all who logged more than 20 minutes in the series opener — as well as Scott Mayfield (18:08).

Pulock set the physical tone with nine hits, including a jarring check on Jack Drury just 20 seconds into Game 1.

“It presented itself,” Pulock said. “You want to set a tone and get into the series. I had a mindset of being hard, playing physical and it’s just how it worked out to start the game. We can feed off of each other that way. When guys see other guys playing hard, playing physical, it can carry over. I’m at a point now I’ve had the experience in the playoffs. I’m trying to be a leader.”

Romanov, 23, is skating on his own — the Islanders said he was on the ice on Wednesday morning, though not at the arena — but has yet to rejoin the team for a practice. So it seems doubtful he would be able to return to the lineup for Friday night’s Game 3 at UBS Arena.

The Islanders, after establishing their physical presence in Game 1 — the Hurricanes did too with 39 hits — must maintain it to have any playoff success. That hard-edged style fueled back-to-back runs to the NHL semifinals in 2020 and 2021.

“It’s been part of our identity for a long time,” captain Anders Lee said. “When we’re better at it than not, it’s effective for us. Playoff hockey can be a long series, so it’s an important aspect for sure.”

“You want to wear people down and you want to be hard on them,” Matt Martin said. “Over the course of the series, it gets harder and harder to keep going back for pucks and having to worry about guys finishing on you all the time. Playoff hockey, you’ve definitely got to invest in that aspect of the game. You never pass up an opportunity to finish and it’s going to take its toll.”

Of course, it can go both ways.

“The game is on a knife’s edge at all times,” right wing Hudson Fasching said. “You can get hit but you can also lay a hit. It’s fun. All the chips on the table kind of vibe. When you see Puls step up last night, that’s a prime example of what we have to do. He played out of his mind. He was playing like a savage out there. That’s what we need to kind of replace Romy.”

Yet while the Islanders are aware of the need to collectively compensate for the absence of Romanov’s physical play, they are also mindful of staying true to their individual strengths.

“I’m not going out of my way trying to change my game just because someone is out of the lineup,” Dobson said. “When a player that’s a regular is out, guys are trying to help each other a little more and talk. We’re all comfortable back there playing with one another. He’s a big part of our team but we’ve just got to focus on our job.”

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