Players and coaches recite the usual talking points of one shift, one period at a time and not looking ahead to the big picture. But even if there’s the same mentality, there’s a different feel in elimination games. How can there not be? Another loss and the season and everything a team has worked for since Day 1 of training camp is suddenly over.
"We’ve gone to this point and we’ve got to earn the right to continue to play," Matt Martin said.
The Islanders faced elimination on Wednesday night in Game 6 of their NHL semifinal series against the Lightning at Nassau Coliseum after an 8-0 loss on Monday night at Amalie Arena. It was potentially the final NHL playoff game at the venerable barn with UBS Arena at Belmont Park targeted to open in November.
But the Islanders have historically been a tough out at the Coliseum, entering Wednesday with a 16-5 record in elimination games played in the arena.
Prior to Game 6 against the Lightning, the last one came in 2015, as the Islanders extended their season with a 3-1 win over Barry Trotz’s Capitals in Game 6 of that first-round series before the Capitals won Game 7 in Washington. The Islanders were playing for the Coliseum’s NHL life in that game, too, as the team made what turned out to be a temporary move to Barclays Center the next season.
"I think you draw from all your previous experiences in the postseason and the regular season," Martin said. "Most importantly, it’s about playing our game, getting to our game early and making it hard on them. Leaving our best game out there. As long as we go out there and play our game, you can live with the result either way."
But another loss to the Lightning in the NHL final four would certainly be a frustrating finish.
The Lightning eliminated the Islanders in six games in last season’s Eastern Conference final in the Edmonton bubble before going on to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. The Lightning took a 3-1 series lead last year and then won Game 6, 2-1, in overtime after the Islanders staved off elimination with a 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 5.
Wednesday marked the first elimination game the Islanders faced in this playoff run after rallying from 2-1 series deficits for six-game victories over the Penguins in the first round and then the Bruins.
The Islanders entered Wednesday 2-2 in elimination games under Trotz.
But Trotz had success against the Lightning while leading the Capitals to the Cup in 2018. The Capitals won the first two games in the Eastern Conference finals before the Lightning won three straight. But the Capitals rallied to win Game 6, 3-0, and then went to Tampa for a 4-0 win in Game 7.
All those experiences came into play for Trotz and the Islanders in Game 6.
"The playoffs are so pressure packed," Trotz said. "The players feel the pressure. The coaches feel the pressure. Once you’ve won it, those experiences of those pressures and knowing when to demand more, knowing when to back off, knowing how to handle an 8-0 loss and how you respond the next day and how do you act, I think there’s something to be said of it.
"What you have in your head in how this is going to play out, it never really plays out that way. The moment is playing out in front of you and if you don’t recognize it, you miss that moment and then you miss your opportunity to maybe go on."