It seems as though it is the same storyline for the New York Islanders every time they’re in the playoffs.
The Florida Panthers didn’t show up. John Carlson must have been playing hurt. The Philadelphia Flyers’ big guns weren’t motivated. Tampa Bay is too skilled.
As the ultimate underdogs, the Islanders have managed to scratch and claw their way to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning. The series has been hard-fought thus far, and head coach Barry Trotz and Co. have made no friends on the way.
Mikhail Sergachev was asked if there's a rivalry brewing between the #Bolts and Isles in this playoff series: "I don't know if it's a rivalry, but they don't like us and we don't like them." #TBLvsNYI
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) September 12, 2020
This in no way has fazed the Islanders. In fact, it has given them the motivation to leave it all out on the ice against Bolts head coach Jon Cooper and his crew. Forward Cal Clutterbuck when asked about the chirps, and the series getting physical, “We’re gonna try and wear everyone down. And good. I love it. So, let go!”
Things really started to get chippy when Lightning forward, Nikita Kucherov, went a little too far in Game 2, when J.G. Pageau buried a game-winning, empty-net goal.
🚨 J-G Pageau EN 5-3 #Isles pic.twitter.com/wFsAzjT3ax
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 12, 2020
A nasty slash to the leg on Pageau has increased the intensity of the series. “I think he’s a competitor and I think he was trying to get his stick on puck and he got the back of my leg, so it wasn’t too close,” Pageau said of Kucherov. “We’re going to battle everyone, everyone on our team tonight competed for a full 60 (minutes).”
That mentality has stuck with the Islanders through five games now. Ross Johnston dressed for Game 4 to boost the physicality after the way Game 3 ended, and to Trotz’s credit, the game ended with a combined 96 hits; 48 apiece. There was no shortage of pushing and shoving, and despite a loss, the Isles brought the physicality.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 13, 2020
The Isles have been great at not looking back but rather looking forward. After game 4, they reflected on what went wrong and looked ahead to a do-or-die Game 5 with their backs against the wall.
“You can’t change what’s happened, obviously you’d like different results and outcomes, but we’re here now with a chance,” said Brock Nelson, who registered the Isles’ lone goal. “We’ve got our backs against the wall and we just have to go out there and play and give it everything we have. It’s going to take a little bit more, a little bit more from everybody. “We have the group in here that believes in each other to go out and get the job done so we have to just start with one.”
Brayden Point wound up being a scratch last night due to an injury sustained in the prior matchup. The Islanders took advantage of the Lightning leading scorer being out of the lineup and kept their season alive on a game-winning goal by Jordan Eberle in double overtime.
In a postgame conference, Cooper said this of the Islanders victory:
Cooper on the #isles OT win: "It took the stars aligning on a fanned shot for them to get the break they got"#GameOn #GoBolts
— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNYI) September 16, 2020
Yet again, the Islanders are spoken about as not winning the game, but that their opponent, unfortunately, lost on their own merit.
Last night’s thrilling victory has the ability to shift the momentum and make the Lightning feel like their backs are against the wall. Comments like this from Cooper should be pinned on the bulletin board in the Isles’ locker room as a reminder that there are still those who doubt their abilities. They have proven time and time again that they play for each other despite the charts and graphs.
They know how to find ways to win.
With two games left in the series, the Islanders have a chance to build off the Game 5 win. They should use the doubt as motivation to get the job done and make this series go the full distance.