After a heartbreaking loss Thursday night, the Islanders find themselves in what feels like a must-win situation heading into Game Four on Saturday. Slow starts in all three games of the series have plagued the Isles and could put an early end to their playoff run.
In game one, Kyle Palmieri put the Islanders on the board first against the Penguins seemingly getting the team off to a fast start. In reality, Ilya Sorokin had already been forced to make a few good saves and the Isles were facing heavy pressure in their own zone. The Pens answered quickly and then went on to own the better of the play for the remainder of the first and second periods.
To start off game two, the Pens lit the lamp just 3:22 into the first period. Before the first intermission the Islanders would find themselves down 2-0. As in game one, Pittsburgh was again the better team out of the gate.
Then last night, I bet you guessed it, the Isles fell again behind just 2:01 into the first period. and they entered trailed heading into the second stanza.
Now the Isles did battle back in all three contests, and even got the win game one in overtime from Palmieri. Come playoffs there’s no consolation for putting up a fight and whichever team has scored first has won in all three games. So, the more the Islanders are chasing the less likely they are to win.
In Thursday’s post-game interview Scott Mayfield told the media the key to game four and beyond. “Just better off the start like I just said… we’ve got another level,” he said. “We got to dig deep and find it for a full 60 instead of two periods or half a period or whatever it was.”
Since the season-ending ACL tear for Anders Lee the offense on Long Island has vanished. It has been excruciating at times watching the Islanders squander opportunity after opportunity. Playing from behind with a less than potent offense makes winning extremely difficult and opens you up to defensive breakdowns and mistakes. “We scored four goals We’ve got to come up with a win. That should be a lock for us,” head coach Barry Trotz said after last night’s defeat.
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Now while offensively the Islanders struggle, they continue to be one of the best defensive teams under Trotz. As a team, they are much more comfortable and well equipped to protect a lead than to erase one. During the regular season the Isles finished as one of the best third period teams in hockey. The pressure, wear and intensity the Trotz system creates forces opposing teams into bad situations where they make costly mistakes. The number of mistakes skyrockets when they are also chasing goals.
The Penguins have defended very well at times also. They have been able to get sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes consistently stifling many seemingly golden opportunities. The luxury of having the lead for most of the series has allowed the Pens to settle into their game and not face the full wrath of the Trotz system. With the talent they have, that is a tall mountain to climb.
If the Islanders want to get past Pittsburgh, it all starts with not having to chase games. After Thursday nights’ loss Trotz added of the game and series; “We’ve just had to chase the game, we chased the game all day today, obviously.”
Coming out strong from puck drop and forcing the Pens to play their game for 60 minutes may be the only way to get past the MassMutual East’s top seed.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryandunni