Barry Trotz offered no warnings, not that there was a practice on Saturday in which to deliver a speech to his Islanders.
They have a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the Penguins going into Sunday’s noon Game 3 at PPG Paints Arena following Friday night’s 3-1 win at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders won Game 1, 4-3, in overtime Wednesday.
The coach was on the other end in last year’s first round, as his Capitals lost the first two games at home to the Blue Jackets, both in overtime. Trotz’s former team won the next four games and went on to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
“Everybody is well aware of all the stuff that happened,” Trotz said at the team’s practice facility in East Meadow before the Islanders departed for Pittsburgh. “There’s no speeches. We look at it as we’ve got to get the next game. We know the series is far from over.”
The Islanders have not won the first three games of a series since sweeping the 1983 Cup Final against the Oilers, which was also the last time they had won the first two games of a series.
“We’ve kind of just tried to stick with what we’ve been doing all year,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. “We won our fair share of games in the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal. We’ve got to go into their building and bring the same sort of jam.”
The Islanders’ series lead reflects that they’ve played the better, more disciplined hockey, other than in the second period of Game 1, when they got into a bit of a track meet with the skilled Penguins.
The Penguins seemingly have been goaded into bad penalties, particularly in Game 2, when the Islanders were 1-for-6 on the power play.
“The emotions run high,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said at his team’s practice facility in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. “The other team sees there’s good players out there. Maybe they want to start something. It doesn’t add to the scoreboard. It doesn’t do anything for the next game.”
For the most part, the Islanders have stuck to their pre-series focus of keeping the Penguins’ fifth-ranked power play off the ice as much as possible.
“I just think it’s the way that we’re playing,” center Casey Cizikas said. “We’re playing hard, we’re playing physical and we’re playing smart hockey. We’re playing Islanders hockey right now and that can be frustrating for teams. If we keep doing that, we’re going to have more success than not.”
There’s a distinction there between being happy with the way the team is playing and being satisfied with a two-game lead.
“Knowing what we still have to achieve,” Cizikas said. “We have a lot of hockey still to play.”
The way Cizikas’ line with Clutterbuck and Matt Martin has played when on the ice against the Penguins’ top line – often pinning that trio in the defensive zone – has been a key reason why Sidney Crosby has been limited to three shots and no points.
Trotz will not have the luxury of matching lines on the road – not that he relies too heavily on that – or making sure defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are on the ice against Crosby’s line.
And the Islanders have not been lulled into thinking Crosby won’t be a factor in this series.
“There’s still a lot more hockey left and we have to be prepared for them to come out hard against us the next game,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “They’re a really good team for a reason, they have some of the best players in the world. Don’t give them too much respect, but respect them because they are that good.”
Game 2 was just the sixth time in 23 postseason games under coach Mike Sullivan that the Penguins have not followed a loss with a win.
“We’ve just got to tighten our game up even more in terms of how we’re going to play,” Trotz said. “We feel we’ve got even another level.”