Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders in Game 2 of...

Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 19, 2023. Credit: Getty Images/Jaylynn Nash

Mathew Barzal is not working with the luxury of time.

Friday night’s Game 3 of the Islanders’ first-round series against the Hurricanes in the first playoff match at UBS Arena was the elite playmaker’s third game back in the lineup following a 23-game absence because of a knee injury.

The Islanders lost the first two games in Carolina, though Barzal scored a second-period equalizer in Wednesday night’s Game 2 before the Islanders eventually lost 4-3 in overtime.

“I was out for two months,” Barzal said. “I wish I could simulate NHL games in a practice. Sometimes it takes guys eight or nine games to get back in it. But this is the playoffs and I’ve got to speed that process up a little bit. I think last game was a good step.

“Just got to speed that process up and not worry about the time I had off and jump right in headfirst into a playoff series. I’m close. I’m right there to feeling back to normal.”

But facing a 2-0 series deficit, time was running short for Barzal and top-line center Bo Horvat to rediscover the chemistry they showed in the six games leading up to Barzal’s injury on Feb. 18 after Horvat was acquired from the Canucks.

Horvat entered Game 3 without a point in the series as he had two shots in each of the first two games and a total of seven chances. He ended the regular season with one goal and four assists in the last seven games.

“I don’t see him as pressing,” coach Lane Lambert said of Horvat. “Certainly, those types of players, him, Barzy, power plays would help. But no, I don’t see him as pressing. I see him as playing hard.”

The Islanders went 0-for-4 on the power play in their 2-1 loss in Game 1 and did not get an opportunity on the man advantage in Game 2.

 Anders Lee, who completes the Islanders’ top trio, also did not have a point in either of the first two games.

Home teams get the last personnel change during stoppages and Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was consistently able to match Jordan Staal’s checking line against Horvat’s trio during the first two games.

That won’t be so easy at UBS Arena.

“[The Hurricanes] are not an easy team to play against,” Barzal said. “They’re doing a good job of making it hard on us. We’ve had a couple of plays. Could have had a couple more. But I would say it’s coming. It’s a good line, ask anybody in the league, they’re a tough line to play against.”

Barzal said scoring on a wrister from the slot in Game 2 was “nice” in the moment because it tied the score. But he didn’t take much from it because the Islanders lost.

However, his teammates definitely took notice, drawing some confidence that Barzal might be able to start consistently producing points.

“Barzy is a huge part of our team,” said Kyle Palmieri, who scored the Islanders’ first goal in Game 2. “The way he plays, he’s so dynamic with and without the puck. He’s hard to defend. Even in Game 1, I thought he looked great. Maybe he didn’t get the space to get the opportunities and find a way to get on the scoresheet. But I think he’s doing the right things. He’s dynamic as he’s always been and he’ll just continue to build on that.”

“He’s our guy and the offensive leader for us,” said Brock Nelson, who gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the third period of Game 2. “To see him flying around, creating and generating, that’s going to be huge for us. If we’re going to win, we’re going to need that.”

But both the Hurricanes and Islanders have done a good job to start the series in taking away time and space from the skaters and making it tough to navigate through the neutral zone.

Accordingly, and unlike some of the other high-scoring series, goals have been tough to get.

“You see some of these other games around the league, it’s 6-1, 7-2, it’s like, ‘What’s going on?’” Barzal said. “We’re in a serious battle with these guys.”

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