Adversity? What adversity?
The Islanders will try to even their Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning in Wednesday night’s Game 2 at Rogers Place in Edmonton after an 8-2 loss on Monday night. It’s the first time the Islanders have trailed in a series this postseason.
“I don’t necessarily think we’re facing any adversity right now,” top-line center Mathew Barzal said on Monday, an off-day for the team. “It was just an unfortunate performance by the team. I don’t feel we’re behind the eight-ball just yet. Get the series back to 1-1 and we’re right back in it.”
Barzal did concede the team’s mood was “a little bit sour” immediately after the lopsided loss, the most goals the Islanders have allowed in a playoff game since 1980. That, however, quickly turned to focusing on Game 2.
“The mood today was good and we’re excited to get another crack at them tomorrow,” Barzal said. “Personally, I liked our attitude after the game last night. We knew it wasn’t acceptable. At the same time, we knew it was a seven-game series and the best to four.”
Obviously, the Islanders must improve many facets of their game dramatically to even the series. The Lightning won too many puck battles along the walls and found too much time and space to operate in the offensive zone, stretching out the Islanders’ defense.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz did not indicate which goalie he would start after Thomas Greiss, who made 16 saves for his first career playoff shutout in a 4-0 win over the Flyers in Saturday night’s Game 7 in Toronto, was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots. Semyon Varlamov allowed five goals on 25 shots in relief.
“We were caught in between a little bit, we were just not as sharp,” Trotz said of the overall defensive effort. “To me, that’s a sign of mental focus, mental fatigue. This team is much better. I know they’ll respond.”
“You can’t dwell on things in the playoffs,” Barzal said. “It’ll eat you up. You’ve just got to have a short-term memory and move on.”
Even if, as Trotz expects, the Islanders raise their effort and battle level, a bigger issue may be the Lightning were also not at their best in Game 1.
Both teams were unhappy with turnovers that led to odd-man rushes. And both teams were unhappy they took too many penalties – the Lightning were 3-for-6 on the power play while the Islanders went 1-for-5.
If anything, the Lightning, who have been to the Eastern Conference finals four times in six years but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final only in 2015, put Game 1 behind them quicker than the Islanders did.
“It was probably the quietest it has been in our room after one of our wins,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after his team practiced on Monday. “It was a combination of we know the Islanders are going to be better and a combination of I know we can be better and they know we can be better. You don’t win a series in Game 1 but if you get it, it sure helps you get on your way.”
“It’s only a statement if we follow it up in Game 2.”
That would really be adversity for the Islanders.