Just to get this question out of the way, yes, Mathew Barzal admits he’s a little bit nervous as he prepares for his first Stanley Cup playoff experience.
“It’s good to have a little bit of nerves, I think,’’ Barzal said Monday after the Islanders practiced at Northwell Health Ice Center in preparation for Game 1 of their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “Good nerves, excited nerves. And also, you’ve got to be just nervous in general when you’re out there just playing hard. And you don’t want to be that guy that messes up, so you’ve got to be out there just playing hard and just real focused. When you’re nervous, your focus really kicks in.’’
Barzal understands that this is his time to step it up. When John Tavares left in free agency last summer, this became his team, and the pressure was on for him to prove he could lead the Islanders into the playoffs. Now that they’re there, the pressure is on Barzal to help them do something in those playoffs.
He wants that pressure. “For sure,’’ he said. “I’m a pretty competitive guy and I love being in that spotlight and on the big stage.
“So I’m excited,’’ he said. “I love this atmosphere. I love the big stage. Last year, I just didn’t have this emotion and this intensity. So I’m just happy to get that back and get that feeling back. It’s going to be fun.’’
Barry Trotz isn’t worried about the fact that five key contributors to the team — Barzal, Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier, Devon Toews and Michael Dal Colle — are playoff rookies.
“We had a lot of guys last year [with Washington] who had never played in a playoff game,’’ Trotz said. “And we had a lot of guys who had never played in a regular-season game, or a playoff game, and now they’re playing in Game 6 against Pittsburgh, when we’ve got [Tom] Wilson and [Nicklas] Backstrom and people like that out of the lineup. And we go and win a game to clinch the series.
“So for some guys, they react a certain way; for some guys, they react in a positive way, some react in a negative way. You get to find out everything about a player and your teammates in the playoffs.’’
Of all his playoff first-timers, Trotz has the least concern about 2018 Calder Trophy winner Barzal, who had 18 goals and 62 points this season.
“I think he just accepts the challenge,’’ Trotz said. “Whatever’s thrown at him, whatever matchup, whoever he’s playing, I think he has the focus to do that.’’