The New York Islanders are gaining confidence in their series with Tampa Bay.
Coach Barry Trotz understands this is still an uphill battle.
”We’re going to get their best game tomorrow, and we’ve got to have our best game,” Trotz said Saturday. ”You’re in a position to get it to a best-of-three, and the opposition, though, doesn’t want that, and they’re going to do everything to prevent us from doing that.”
After dropping the series opener 8-2, the Islanders took the Lightning to the wire in each of the next two games. The teams split those, so now New York is in a position where it can even the series with a victory in Game 4 on Sunday.
The Islanders were coming off a seven-game win over Philadelphia in the previous round. That’s part of the reason Trotz thinks the past two games are a better indication of his team’s ability than the lopsided Game 1.
”The reason we won yesterday was probably because of the mindset in Game 2,” Trotz said. ”I didn’t think Game 1 was a fair reflection of what we were capable of playing. I think Game 2 was a little bit more of that, and I think Game 2 gave us the confidence that we could win Game 3.”
Still, there are constant reminders of how formidable the Lightning are. The teams appeared headed to overtime in Game 2, but the Islanders looked uncharacteristically disorganized in their own zone in the last half-minute of the third period. Tampa Bay had multiple chances to break the late tie, and Nikita Kucherov took advantage when he scored with 8.8 seconds remaining to give the Lightning a 2-1 win.
In Game 3, the Islanders led 3-1 heading into the third period, only to allow two straight Tampa Bay goals. This time, it was New York that scored the big goal late. Brock Nelson put the Islanders ahead to stay with 3:25 remaining, and they eventually won 5-3.
This is the ninth playoff series in NHL history to have two straight winning goals in the last four minutes of regulation. It also happened in the Colorado-Arizona series this year.
”I like our response after it was 3-3,” Trotz said. ”There’s probably good parts of that game that I don’t like, and there’s good parts of the game that I liked in Game 2 that I thought was maybe a better game in some areas.”
Although both games could have gone either way, the Islanders could get an emotional boost after ending up on the winning side in Game 3.
”You get that win, it’s huge, and you’ve got to move on, but I think you can look back on it and take some of the stuff you did well and what worked and gave you that success, and try to carry that over,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. ”Obviously, I think win or loss, you can find things that you need to be better at.”
Trotz didn’t have much of an update on center Casey Cizikas, who was scratched for Game 3.
”It’s sort of the same as yesterday. It’ll be sort of game time,” Trotz said.
The Lightning get back Alex Killorn from a suspension. Brayden Point’s status for Sunday is more uncertain after he missed Game 3.
As Trotz pointed out, this type of playoff run is nothing new for Tampa Bay, which reached the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and made it to the conference finals again in 2016 and 2018. The powerful Lightning went out in the first round last year, but they haven’t seemed easy to rattle as they’ve progressed through this 2020 postseason.
”I think as you go through the playoffs, you start to learn a lot about your team,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”There’s a really quiet confidence about our group.”
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