Professional athletes do not get to be professional athletes by being too psychologically fragile to move past bad losses — or so the Islanders hope as they approach Game 4 of their second-round playoff series against the Lightning on Friday night.
Not to worry, said Matt Martin, one of the team’s emotional leaders and most popular players. That 5-4 overtime loss in Game 3 Tuesday, in which the Islanders lost three separate leads, one of them in the final minute of regulation?
“You have to be able to let things go, not only wins and losses, but we live in a social media world now,” Martin said after the morning skate at Barclays Center. “You have to deal with people writing messages at you. There are so many things that can be said.
“You have to have a pretty tight thing going on in your brain where you understand what is at stake. We have a long series ahead of us. You can’t let the emotions of it get the best of you. I think it’s the reporters’ jobs and the fans’ jobs to get overly emotional about things. But we try to take it in stride.”
Sure, that seems self-evident. But it can be easier said than done. Martin said playing in four playoff series in the past four seasons has helped him keep it all in perspective.
“Obviously it was a tough loss, but we also won a series like that,” he said. “Those kinds of swings happen. This is my fourth playoff series and there’s ups and downs and big momentum swings throughout. You just have to stay the course and understand what’s at stake.
“It was one game. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and tonight’s probably the biggest game of our season. We played a pretty solid game the other night, probably one of our best of the playoffs, to be honest with you. Sometimes you lose those games. You take the good, you take the bad away and you try to get better for the next one.”
The series’ first three games generated some bad blood, notably in the form of a big hit by the Lightning's Brian Boyle on Thomas Hickey that led to Boyle’s game-winner in overtime.
Martin and his fourth-line-mates Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck handle a lot of the hitting for the Islanders, but Martin said they must do so judiciously.
“You don’t want to go out there and cost your team anything by playing with too much emotion and trying to get back at guys,” he said. “You have be smart about it and disciplined about it and take your shots when you can get them.
“It’s a very fine line, absolutely. There are things that happen in a game that as a player upset you, and you want to go get even or exact some sort of revenge, but you have to do it responsibly and with discipline. It won’t do you any good if you’re sitting in the [penalty] box and costing your team.
“For players like myself and Cal and Casey, we do walk that line of being disciplined and undisciplined, I guess. We have to be very careful with that. But we want to get as many shots in on them as we can and be physical but be smart.”
Having the Islanders on a bigger media stage than usual has highlighted their fourth line as one of the best in the NHL.
“It is cool,” Martin said. “Obviously it’s good to be recognized, but with that comes expectations. There were times in the first series [against the Panthers] where on national television we were getting ragged on a little bit.
“You don’t hear that about a lot of teams’ fourth lines. It’s a big expectation for us and one we accept.”