A loss is a loss, particularly in the playoffs when a team only gets so many before the postseason turns into the offseason.
But the Islanders were feeling better – perhaps even encouraged – after their second straight defeat to open their Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning. Game 3 is Friday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton after the Lightning won Game 2, 2-1, on Nikita Kucherov’s goal with 8.8 seconds left in regulation.
“It’s probably better because our game was better,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz when asked to characterize his team’s mood a day after the heartbreaker as compared to after Monday night’s 8-2 loss in Game 1. “Let’s call it what it was, we didn’t have much of a chance in Game 1. Last night’s game was much better. We had a chance to win. We didn’t get it done. The belief in our room is real good. This series is real close to flipping here. Our game is back to where it should be.”
Whether that will be enough to win four of the next five from the Lightning, who have won six straight and have won all five series in their franchise history when winning the first two games, is debatable.
It’s also not the point to Trotz.
“It’s understanding there’s no reason other than the outcome to feel bad about your game,” said Trotz, who steadfastly preaches focusing on the process, not the results.
“Any sports psychologist will tell you, you have to be in the moment, you can’t worry about the result,” Trotz said. “If you’re thinking too far ahead and thinking about the score, you’re thinking about the wrong thing. You’re not thinking about your job. The process will get the end result most times. Sometimes, it’s not fair. We had a tremendous Game 6 against the Flyers, our process was all there, then our stick breaks in the offensive and they come down and score. That’s nothing to do with the process. That’s just life, sometimes. Certain things, it’s going to hit the fan and you can’t control it.”
The Islanders did not practice on Thursday in deference to their hectic schedule. After blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Flyers on back-to-back overtime losses, including the 5-4 double overtime defeat to the Flyers in Game 6, they rebounded with a 4-0 win in Saturday’s Game 4. The next day was spent traveling from Toronto to Edmonton and the fatigue showed in Monday’s series-opening debacle with the Lightning.
But Trotz said at this point in the playoffs, very little teaching or adjustments are being made at practice. Instead, systematic adjustments are made through video sessions or one-one-one meetings.
The Islanders limited the Lightning to 21 shots in Game 2, tightened their defense and were much better through the neutral zone and on the forecheck. The problems came with an 0-for-4 power play, including a five-minute chance in the first period, and no shots on a 38-second five-on-three in the third period.
And, of course, the final sequence when the Islanders scrambled defensively and Kucherov was open for his winning, one-timer.
“That belief is there,” captain Anders Lee said. “We believe in ourselves, in this group. The first two games haven’t gone the way we wanted to but I think we have a lot to build on from Game 2. We like the way we played. If we can build off of that and continue to play better, as a team we believe in ourselves to do the right thing. None of that has left our room, for sure.”