TAMPA, Fla. — However the Islanders are perceived is not of utmost importance to their players. But management knows it matters.
"I think winning matters," Cal Clutterbuck said. "I think winning, it’s what’s important to us. Everyone’s opinion is different. Everyone is entitled to it. But, no we don’t think about it."
The Islanders’ immediate focus is Tuesday night’s Game 2 of their NHL semifinal series against the Lightning at Amalie Arena after stifling their opponent’s potent attack in Sunday afternoon’s 2-1 win.
But the Lightning’s perception, both immediately following the game and after both teams had optional practices on Monday, was that the Game 1 result had more to do with their own failures than the Islanders’ success.
"We didn’t spend a ton of time in the offensive zone because we kept turning the puck over," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said on Monday. "And, so, we weren’t really giving ourselves a chance to play offense. We have a recipe. We didn’t follow the directions last night. What turned out, it didn’t look too good. We addressed some things today.
"Give the Islanders credit, they’ve got a good team," added Cooper, whose team beat the Islanders in six games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals in the Edmonton bubble before going on to win the Stanley Cup. "There’s a reason they’re here. There’s a reason they’ve been in the conference final the last couple of years. [It's] because they’re good. We know they are and we know we can be better."
The Islanders will have to continue to do what they did in Game 1 to take a 2-0 series lead back to Nassau Coliseum for Thursday night’s Game 3. Their defensive structure was sound. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped 29 shots. They were able to turn the Lightning’s turnovers into scoring chances.
Most importantly, they only gave the Lightning two power-play opportunities. The Lightning scored their lone goal skating six-on-four with 53.7 seconds left in regulation, making them 16-for-37 (43.2%) on the man advantage in the postseason and meaning that a disproportionate 41% of their playoff goals have come from their power play.
Perhaps it’s natural for the Lightning to focus on their own Game 1 faults.
But this was not a case of the Lightning just losing Game 1. The Islanders earned the victory.
And how a team is perceived around the NHL — not by the media or prognosticators, but by fellow NHL personnel — can be crucial.
The Islanders are heading into their new, state-of-the-art UBS Arena at Belmont Park next season and co-owner Jon Ledecky made it clear on a recent construction tour that the building — specifically a generously-sized visitor’s dressing room — will hopefully make the Islanders attractive to future free agents.
President and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz have worked hard in their three seasons to change the perception of the organization around the NHL.
"One of the biggest things we had to overcome was playing out of Barclays and guys living on the Island and then we’re back in the Coliseum," Trotz said. "I think all that gets cleaned up with the new building. Players can get a real good vision. Our building will solidify that part.
"Organizationally, I think it was important for us to get back to some foundational stuff," Trotz added. "Being a team that is consistently close to the playoffs or in the playoffs or moving forward to try and win a Stanley Cup. We’re trying to be a constant playoff team and a constant threat. Because once you get into the playoffs, you have a chance every year. If you have success as an organization, that takes care of everything else."