TAMPA, Fla. — Every playoff series follows a similar pattern regardless of the game-to-game results. Teams play with increasing desperation and urgency as the eventual outcome nears.
The Lightning believe they didn’t start their NHL semifinal series against the Islanders with enough of either. The Islanders know they started at a good level but still need to ratchet that up.
Game 2 on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena would be a test of which team was more successful after the Islanders won, 2-1, in Sunday afternoon’s Game 1. The series shifts to Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.
"We didn’t make them desperate at all," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said on Tuesday morning of his team’s Game 1 loss. "When I want a team leaving a game, I’d like for them to have ice bags all over their body and not feeling too great afterwards. I think the Islanders probably didn’t have to shower after that game."
That, of course, is hyperbole. And perhaps unfair hyperbole since, yes, the Islanders worked very hard in Game 1 in terms of playing physically and with balance throughout the lineup.
The Islanders were able to maintain that level after a physically-challenging, six-game win over the Bruins in the second round.
"You’re going to get their best game [in Game 2] and, from our standpoint, we’ve got some growth as well," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "We came off our last series, a real physical, heavy series and it took a good chunk of us. As this series goes on, the emotional level will go up for both teams and it will become a harder series.
"But we’re not really worried about the 'hard'. I think our guys embrace the battle, the hardness of the game and what it will take. You’ll see more desperation in [the Lightning’s] game. They’ll have maybe a different plan. I think we had something to do with it but I’m sure they have another level, or feel they do. That’s part of the playoff process."
The Islanders wrested home-ice advantage away from the Lightning with their Game 1 victory. But that has not been a huge factor in their playoff run so far.
Entering Game 2, the Islanders were 5-2 on the road in the postseason and 4-2 at the Coliseum. They did clinch against both the Bruins and against the Penguins in the first round in Game 6s at the Coliseum.
But the playoff road success thus far is an important improvement over the regular season, when the Islanders struggled to an 11-13-4 mark away from the Coliseum.
Arenas were either empty or with just a scattering of fans through much of the regular season. So, perhaps, the Islanders are now feeding off the negative crowd energy on the road.
"Honestly, no," Trotz said. "I just think it’s a great atmosphere and both teams are ramped up. We have not used the us-against-them mentality at all. It’s more the guys are excited. They understand the importance of the games. The guys are dialed in. It’s a little easier to get up for games with the atmospheres. These are fun, that’s the best way to say it."
"As far as playing on the road, compared to the start of the year to now, it’s always a challenge," Josh Bailey said. "Especially when you go up against a team like this in a building like this. Their fans bring a lot of energy and we saw it the last couple of rounds, too. It’s exciting, to get to play in front of this many people at this time of year, it’s a great opportunity."