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After long layoff, Isles need to be in 'playoff mode' now for Game 1 vs. Hurricanes

Islanders coach Barry Trotz looks on during practice

Islanders coach Barry Trotz looks on during practice before the second round of the NHL playoffs in East Meadow on Thursday. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Barry Trotz saw it in in his players before the Islanders started their first-round sweep of the Penguins.

“I had no doubt we were going to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Trotz told Newsday. “I saw it going into the playoffs. I saw it Game 1. No one thinks you’re going to beat your opponent four straight. But I didn’t have any doubt we were going to win that series.”

The Islanders open their second-round series against the Hurricanes on Friday night at Barclays Center. And even if the coach has a similar feeling about this matchup, he wouldn’t say now.

But Trotz said this series is harder to predict. The Islanders have been idle since a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh in Game 4 on April 16. The Hurricanes, rallying from a 3-2 series deficit and two, two-goal deficits in Game 7, ousted the defending Stanley Cup-champion Capitals, 4-3, in double overtime on Wednesday night at Washington.

“We’ve had so much time, I can’t really answer that until we get halfway through the first game,” said Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Cup last season, when asked for his feeling for the second round. “I won’t answer it, for good reasons. But you will have a better feel for it.”

The Islanders held an optional morning skate at Barclays Center on Friday morning, their first time back in the building since a 5-2 win over the Oilers on Feb. 16.

Trotz, addressing the media while a handful of his players skated, said there was a curiosity as to how the Islanders would react to the playoff layoff, tied for the third longest in NHL history. He paid close attention to how the Blue Jackets reacted in their 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1 at Boston on Thursday after they swept the Lightning in the first round.

“The reality is there’s no excuse,” Trotz said. “The reality is Carolina has been in playoff mode, 48 hours ago they were in playoff mode so they haven’t lost that. The reality is it’s been 10 days since we’ve been in playoff mode. It’s not an excuse. There are benefits. Hopefully, as the series goes along, we’re fresher. The negative would be we’re probably not in playoff mode until we drop the puck and we start working at it.

“Last night, Columbus hung in there,” Trotz added. “They could have been down five goals in the first period if it weren’t for some big saves. They got better as the game went on and we’re going to have to do the same.”

Like the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky, goalie Robin Lehner can make the early difference for the Islanders.

Lehner held the Penguins to six goals in four games, including just three over the final three games as he stopped 130 of 136 shots.

“I don’t see why not,” Trotz said. “I witnessed it last night. Bob, for Columbus, was fantastic. I think our goaltending department has done a really great job of preparing Robin and [Thomas] Greiss to jump in there. When they’ve come off any time working with the goaltending department, they seem to have been really sharp.”

The Islanders’ players were not too concerned the rust of a long layoff would linger.

“We’re excited, we haven’t played in a while,” left wing Anthony Beauvillier said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play hard and get our legs moving. We practiced hard. [The Hurricanes] have been in playoff mode for the last two weeks. We’ve just got to be mentally ready and everything will come back for sure.”

“I think the expectation is we’re just going to keep our focus where our focus has been for the balance of the season and through the first round,” added right wing Cal Clutterbuck, citing an “even-keel” attitude. “I think we know when our game is going and our game is good, it matches up with anybody. The goal is to bring that level. We’ll get there.”

Clutterbuck’s presence in the Game 1 lineup was one of the benefits of having such a long time between playoff games. He exited Game 4 against the Penguins and Trotz acknowledged Clutterbuck would have missed time in that series had it gone longer.

Projected lineups

Islanders

Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle

Josh Bailey-Brock Nelson-Tom Kuhnhackl

Anthony Beauvillier-Valtteri Filppula-Leo Komarov

Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy-Thomas Hickey

Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield

Robin Lehner (4-0, 1.47 goals-against average, .956 save percentage)

Hurricanes

Nino Niederreiter-Sebastian Aho-Teuvo Teravainen

Brock McGinn-Jordan Staal-Justin Williams

Warren Foegele-Lucas Wallmark-Jordan Martinook

Patrick Brown-Greg McKegg-Saku Maenalanen

Jaccob Slavin-Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce-Justin Faulk

Calvin de Haan-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Petr Mrazek (4-3, 2.53, .899)

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