New York Islanders center Valtteri Filppula (51), of Finland, leaps over Carolina Hurricanes center Clark Bishop, bottom, while competing for the puck during the second period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series, Friday, April 26, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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Taub: Down 2-0, Isles No Beginner When it Comes to Facing Adversity

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They’ve done it all year long. And now, they’re going to have to do it again.

What you ask that it is? Overcoming adversity.

From the beginning of the offseason all the way to when the buzzer sounded yesterday afternoon, the New York Islanders have become equipped with finding a way to dig out of the hole they put themselves in. It happened after they lost John Tavares; after their rocky start to the season; and after they bent in late February and early March. With a must-win game — and arguably their season on the line — in Raleigh on Wednesday night, the Isles are going to have to use that pressure again that has pushed them all throughout the season to this point.

Even in a 2-0 hole, Barry Trotz knows the task at hand and even said it again this morning.

“There’s always tests and an unseen hand,” he said to a group of reporters. “It’s how you respond. I said to them today, we’re going to Carolina to win two games. Plain and simple.”

Sending that message to his troops is reminiscent because Trotz himself is no slouch when it comes to the adversity too.

In the first round against Columbus last year, Trotz — then head coach of the Washington Capitals — watched his club lose the first two games on home ice, only to see them respond and win games three and four on the road. Washington would go on to win two straight and win the series in six. The same predicament took place again in the Eastern Conference Final. The Caps took games one and two against the Tampa Bay Lightning but then lost three straight to find themselves down in the series 3-2. Once again, and after Trotz’ now infamous “hot lap”, his team shutout the Bolts in games six and seven to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

So, it’s easy to see that the coach knows a thing or two about facing the pressure. But the guys in that locker room also know about it as well, not just from this season. Three in particular: Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl and Valtteri Filppula.

Komarov, 31, was a part of the 2013 Maple Leafs squad that was down 3-1 to the Boston Bruins in round one. He and that team found a way to force a game seven, and we all know what happened there. But again, that’s the type of experience, even in defeat, you warrant from the situation the Islanders find themselves in now. Kuhnhackl, 27, skated on a Pittsburgh Penguins team in 2016 — they went on to win the Cup — who overcame a 3-2 series deficit to Tampa in the Conference Final, ending in a game seven OT victory and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. Filppula, 34, has been a part of several teams who have gone down in the postseason but found ways to get back in the series and go on to win them.

Even past those three veterans, there are other players who faced their struggles dead on who the Isles can lean on as the series resumes two days from now.

Goalie Robin Lehner underwent the most trying year of his life personally and professionally last year — revealing he suffered from mental-health issues and alcoholism back in September — only to record a career-best 25 wins, the share of the William Jennings Trophy, and nominations for both the Masterton and Vezina trophies.

Forward Jordan Eberle, a pending free agent, had trouble finding consistency all season long but turned it around late in the season and was the driving force behind the sweep of the Penguins in the opening round.

D-man Adam Pelech — scratched four times before the middle of January and at the bottom of the depth chart — used his shortcomings as motivation and manufactured a splendid second half of the season and excellent performance in the first round.

There are a few others that can be mentioned, but I think you get the point by now.

Looking forward to game three, the Isles just need to use the adversity they’ve overcome as individuals and as a team and channel it.

The offense isn’t going right now, as it did on multiple occasions throughout this year, but they’ve battled and gotten rewarded when they’ve needed it; the defense, went from allowing the most goals in the league a year ago (296) to the least amount in the league; the power play, struggling from what seems since the beginning of time, just needs to keep throwing pucks at the net and hopefully one finds its way in.

Adversity has been what’s fueled the Isles till now. Now in an all too familiar spot, with their backs against the wall, they must overcome and show this series is only getting started.

Two games into this series, there’s been the good and the bad from an Islanders perspective. But ten things have really stuck out to this blogger. Here they are:

-Robin Lehner has been outstanding. Pete Jensen of NHL.com said it best when describing how wonderful Lehner’s played in the first two games. Lehner has only allowed three goals — one off a “shit” bounce, the other a deflection — and has continued his excellent showing from round one. He’s looked composed, sharp, and made timely saves when there’s been a rare defensive breakdown in front of him.

-Devon Toews has been the Isles defensemen so far. Aside from his tough no-goal call yesterday, Toews has flourished in the series thus far. He’s been fantastic is neutralizing some of the Canes speedier forwards and using his stick effectively. His game offensively has been splendid; he leads the team in shots for a d-man.

-Adam Pelech is a shot blocking machine. Pelech was sensational in both games on the penalty kill. He was willing to put his body on the line every time he was out there on the ice. His eight blocked shots in all on-ice situations have him one behind teammate Nick Leddy for the most in the series so far.

-The Islanders third line has stepped it up. Against the Penguins, the trio of Komarov, Filppula and Anthony Beauvillier were a little quieter than the other three lines. So far though in this series, they’ve been the Isles best line. Komarov and Filppula have flexed their muscles in the offensive zone, making it hard on the Canes inexperienced defense. Beauvillier has really used his speed and low gravity to win puck battles and create scoring chances.

-The penalty kill continues to be lights out. It was well established how bad the Hurricanes power play was, but how the Isles have given them absolutely nothing has been a masterclass. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5-on-4 or 5-on-3, the Islanders penalty kill units and Lehner, have been very composed and have kept everything to the outside.

-Sooner or later the fourth line is going to score. We saw it throughout the first round and last Friday and yesterday, the fourth line continues to be a nightmare for the opposition. The problem that still remains? They still haven’t found the scoresheet. It’s maddening at this point that neither of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck or Matt Martin has been able to put on in the net despite numerous golden opportunities.

-The second line seems a little lost. The start to this series for Brock Nelson has been a rough one. He’s had trouble keeping the puck on his stick and tracking the play. Josh Bailey has had some high-quality chances but can’t find paydirt. Without the puck, Bailey has been been a step to slow. Kuhnhackl continues to be his energetic self and is hustling, but has yet to really help generate the attack.

-The power play. Yes, Mat Barzal was able to get the Isles on the board with the man-advantage yesterday, but it wasn’t a pretty goal by any means. The other power plays the Isles have earned, they haven’t been able to score, let alone get grade A chances.

-The officiating and the bounces. You can argue till the cows come home about both, but each has been excruciatingly painful to watch. The non-goal calls, Ryan Pulock and Jordan Eberle denting posts/crossbars, have all just made this series incredibly frustrating.

-The Barclays effect. Bouncing pucks, players falling over each other, blown chances. All these things happened almost too much in the first two games, and, whether you agree or disagree, have played a part in why the Isles currently in a two-zero hole. Also, the team is winless in seven tries when trying to win a playoff game in regulation on Barclays’ ice.

Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_

 

 

 

 

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