And now, they wait.
The Islanders, fresh off their four-game sweep of the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, may not begin their second-round series for at least a week against either the Capitals or the Hurricanes
The long layoff will bring some needed rest in the midst of a physical postseason run, particularly with the status of defenseman Johnny Boychuk and right wing Cal Clutterbuck unclear after both exited in the second period of Tuesday night’s 3-1 win in Game 4 at Pittsburgh. Coach Barry Trotz had no immediate update after the game, and the team did not practice on Wednesday.
But long stretches between games is not an optimal model for maintaining peak performance.
“We’re going to manage it right,” said Trotz, who also will give his team Thursday off. “We’ll try to get in a rhythm. This group always practices very well. It’s not afraid of work, it’s not afraid of the challenge. If it’s a week off, or eight or nine days, that’ll be the challenge.”
The Capitals hold a 2-1 edge on the Hurricanes heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 at Carolina and that series could be over as soon as Saturday or extend until next Wednesday.
If that series goes to Game 7, the Islanders likely wouldn’t resume play until April 26.
“There’s two schools of thought,” president and general manger Lou Lamoriello said on Mike Francesa’s WFAN show on Wednesday. “But we can’t control it so we can’t allow it to get in the way. The players will get a couple days off, which is much needed. This was a much harder series than people might think it was. Even though we won four in a row, they weren’t easy games.”
Trotz coached the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup last season and is admittedly way more familiar with his former team.
If the Islanders do play the Capitals, Trotz’s dressing-room declaration to his former players on Nov. 26 as he was presented with his Cup ring that “You’ll have to go through the Island, but you guys can do it again,” will no doubt be replayed over and over.
“When I said it, I believed it,” Trotz said. “If it happens to be Washington, what I said will be played forever on every newscast. They’re a strong hockey team that has the goods to do it again. They’re a special group and they’ll always be a part of me. If we end up playing them, they’re the opposition.
“If we end up playing Carolina, they have a lot of character,” Trotz added. “I had Justin Williams and I know that leadership. They’ve got a lot of heart and some highly skilled players. They might have one of the most underrated defense corps in the NHL. No matter what happens, we’re going to have our hands full in the next round.”
The Islanders split their four-game season series with the Capitals, with the visiting team winning each game. The Islanders clinched home-ice advantage with a 3-0 win in the season-finale at Washington on April 6 as the Capitals rested several key players.
The Islanders won three of four from the Hurricanes, including a 2-1 win at Carolina in the season opener on Oct. 4. The teams have not met since Jan. 8.
“I think that whoever we play next round is going to be more difficult than the last round, because it gets tougher and tougher,” Lamoriello said on The Michael Kay Show on Wednesday on ESPN-98.7FM. “Washington is still the team to beat, in my opinion, and has been the whole year. They’re the defending champions with the same team. Carolina has just been a Cinderella team the whole year and I think they’re going to give Washington a little run with the way they’re playing.”