PITTSBURGH – It was a relaxed Monday for the Islanders between Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series against the Penguins. Only the extras participated in a limited optional skate at PPG Paints Arena. Cheering and laughing could be heard echoing through the empty building from the event floor as players not skating participated in off-ice exercises.
The intensity will return on Tuesday night as the Islanders have a chance to return to Nassau Coliseum with a commanding series lead after winning Game 1, 4-3, in overtime on Sunday afternoon. The trick is remaining on the desired even keel given the opportunity ahead of them.
"It’s a veteran group, we talked about that," coach Barry Trotz said. "We went through a lot of that in the playoffs last year and we have a lot of returning players. I think we recognize that you take each game as a singular event and you move on, good bad or indifferent. If you win or if you lose, you try to get better. We didn’t do anything more than win one hockey game."
"It’s always nice to win on the road, the first game of the series," Casey Cizikas said. "We enjoyed it yesterday but today is a new day. We’re focused on tomorrow."
Based on Monday’s optional practice – with goalies Semyon Varlamov and Cory Schneider working with defensemen Braydon Coburn and Thomas Hickey and forwards Ross Johnston, Michael Dal Colle and Travis Zajac – Trotz is likely to keep his Game 1 lineup intact, including rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin after his 39-save NHL playoff debut.
"They’re going to make adjustments from what they saw," Trotz said of the Penguins. "We’re trying to anticipate some of those adjustments. But there are some adjustments we need to make as well. So this is where the chess match comes in a little bit. But at the end of the day, it’s making sure you’re mentally focused and prepared to play."
This marks the Islanders’ third playoff run under Trotz. It has included a first-round sweep of the Penguins in 2019 and last season’s berth in the Eastern Conference finals, the Islanders’ first since 1993.
Overall, the Islanders entered this series having won four postseason series under Trotz and losing two. In every series they’ve won, they won Game 1. In every series the Islanders have lost under Trotz, they’ve lost Game 1.
"It’s just important in any series you focus on one game at a time," Matt Martin said. "It’s a race to four and we did a good job picking up the first game and now our goal is to make it a 2-0 series. We know it’s going to be tough. They’re a good hockey team. They’ll play a desperate game."
But it does not appear the Penguins will have Evgeni Malkin back in their lineup for Game 2.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan listed Malkin, who did not play in Game 1, as day to day after he was on the ice for the team’s practice on Monday but did not participate in line rushes or in power-play drills.
"He’s a world-class player," Martin said. "They’re a deep team, either way. We tried to neutralize their top guys as much as possible. We tried to be physical and stick to our game. Malkin is going to be in this series at some point. But either way, they have a top team in this league and we’ve got to be ready regardless of who’s out there."
Added Trotz, "He’s a fantastic player. He’s a game changer. We’ve got to play the same way we play."