The Islanders certainly seem to be in a bit of a predicament, considering the circumstantial evidence of being down 2-1 in their NHL semifinal series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning and facing what nearly amounts to a must-win in Saturday night’s Game 4 at Nassau Coliseum.
But the Islanders can also draw inspiration, motivation and confidence from being in this exact spot twice already in these playoffs. They rallied for six-game wins against the Penguins in the first round and then the Bruins.
So, they know they’re capable of doing it again.
"Yeah, we’ve had success, even being in this position the last two previous times," coach Barry Trotz said on Friday as the team conducted an optional practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "Absolutely, you look back and go, ‘We’ve been here before.’
"If you haven’t done it, you always have that doubt. We’ve done it twice already so there should be no doubt in our guys that we didn’t lose the series last night. In some ways, the series might have just begun."
The Lightning won Thursday night’s Game 3, 2-1, at the Coliseum, relying on the same stifling defensive structure that is also the foundation of the Islanders’ success.
The Islanders have been held to five goals in the three games, including a 2-1 win in Game 1 at Amalie Arena.
There are no secrets how the rest of this series will be played, nor how the Islanders, who scored four or more goals in eight of their first 12 playoff games, must find a way to penetrate the Lightning’s inner defense and get more traffic in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
"They’ve got long, heavy defense that moves well and Vasilevskiy is one of the best in the league," Mathew Barzal said. "You combine those two things, it makes it tough."
Again, the Islanders are well aware of the difference between tough and impossible.
"Every game is a hard game," Leo Komarov said. "We don’t really look back. We just look forward. We’re focused on the next game and we’ll see how it goes."
Still, to review: The Islanders lost, 5-4, to the Penguins in Game 3 at the Coliseum before winning Game 4, 4-1. Against the Bruins, the Islanders dropped Game 3, 2-1, in overtime at the Coliseum before rebounding for a 4-1 win in Game 4.
"I look back at the Boston series, that Game 3, we should have won Game 3 and we come up with a loss and come back in the dressing room and you have that deflated feeling," Trotz said. "It was no different last night. We were a little deflated because we felt we put out a strong effort. We thought we probably should be going into overtime. But it didn’t happen. So, you just sort of park it and we look forward for the opportunity tomorrow.
"We can look back at those previous experiences and we’ve had good success so there’s no reason for us to have any doubt that this can’t happen again. But it’s on us to do it. Not hope or anything like that. You can’t have any passengers and everybody’s got to pull on the rope really hard. We stick to the process, we’ll be fine. We had more of our game displayed yesterday than we did the game before. I think it’s trending to where we want it to be."
Still, the Islanders’ physically wore down both the Penguins and the Bruins as each series progressed.
So far, neither the Islanders nor the Lightning have established a physical superiority in this series.