It’s not a must-win for the Islanders.
But that’s the way they must approach Tuesday’s Game 2 against the Panthers in the best-of-five qualifier even with a lead in the short series.
“They’re going to come with a different level,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said after the team’s practice on Monday in Toronto. “We’re going to have to do the same. The opportunity we have in Game 2 is crucial, especially in a short series.”
Faceoff is at noon at Scotiabank Arena after the Islanders won Game 1, 2-1, on Saturday.
Game 3 is Wednesday at noon, so the Islanders know the series can turn quickly if they slip.
“There’s a little more desperation in a five-game series,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “At the same time, it’s playoff hockey. You want to get the wins and you never want to go down in a series.”
NHL teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five format have gone on to advance 55 of 56 times, the lone exception being the Islanders rallying to eliminate the Capitals in 1985.
“In a short series, every game means that much more,” Jordan Eberle said. “One-one or two-oh, it changes the momentum of everything. We know we’re going to get their best [Tuesday]. We’re going to have to be at our best if we want to compete.”
“That urgency level comes a little quicker,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We can put a team on the brink two games into it, not three. It comes quick and we’re playing back to back. We have to have the same mentality as Game 1.”
The Islanders will likely be without defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who exited Game 1 for concussion protocol and did not practice on Monday.
But the Islanders should be able to muster the same tight, defensive structure even without Boychuk. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped 27 shots in Game 1 and the Islanders allowed the Panthers’ power play, which ranked 10th during the regular season, just one, unsuccessful chance.
Plus, Anthony Beauvillier scored on the power play after defenseman Mike Matheson’s illegal check to the head knocked Boychuk from Game 1 at 2:44 of the second period.
“You can have long memories,” Trotz said. “You don’t want to be emotionally out of control.”
The Islanders need to continue winning the special teams’ battle while maintaining their defensive intensity.
But it wouldn’t hurt to generate more chances five-on-five, particularly from their top line of Mathew Barzal in between Lee and Eberle.
The trio managed just two shots on Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1, while playing a responsible defensive game.
“I think we were quiet,” Lee said. “Not a lot for, or against. It was one of those games where we couldn’t seem to get anything going, anything sustained. Our rushes were a little bit one and done. Give credit to the other line, they stifled us a little bit. We’ll try to create a little more, hold onto the puck.”
Barzal’s line was a key reason the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round of last season’s opening-round playoff series. Eberle scored one goal in each of those four games and added two assists. Barzal had five assists in the four games and Lee chipped in with a goal and two assists.
“We’re dangerous when all four lines are going,” Trotz said. “Barzy’s line gets a lot of attention. Sometimes, it’s not what you get but what you give up. I don’t think we gave up much. They have a lot of pride. They feel they have to be an offensive piece to our puzzle. I’m glad they feel that way. They usually respond.”