Before Barry Trotz assumed the role behind the Islanders’ bench three years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find any fan who heard of the saying “bend but don’t break”. Those words were nearly as foreign as the word identity.
Now as the Isles have continued to have sustained success, that mantra has become a fabric of who the team is and what their game entails.
No more was that defined in the club’s scintillating Game 4 victory last night.
The Islanders went toe-t0-t0e with the Bolts on Saturday. They had played a very strong 40 minutes — their second period being arguably their best performance in the series to this point — and built themselves a 3-0 advantage. But, they allowed Tampa to strike twice early in the third, once from Brayden Point and next Tyler Johnson, as a result of sitting back a bit. At that point, they were bending and it felt like the dam was ready to burst.
But this isn’t the same old Islanders we’re talking about. This isn’t 2016 when the Isles suffered the same fate at the hands of the same Lightning squad in Games 3 and 4 of their second-round series on home ice. This team is comfortable being in uncomfortable situations.
They never broke.
“I didn’t have to say a lot,” Trotz said after the game. “This group is pretty mature. I just said, ‘Listen, we have 10 minutes to go, we’ve been here before, let’s just take a deep breath and worry about taking care of business.’ You can’t look back, so just look forward. We were still winning the game with almost 10 minutes to go and to me, that was a really good sign. Our bench wasn’t panicking, we just took a deep breath and said, ‘Let’s go to work.’ ”
RYAN PULOCK IN THE FINAL SECONDS WINS GAME 4! Oh my god! pic.twitter.com/J9BTRapRx8
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 20, 2021
“That’s a special play,” teammate Josh Bailey said. “The patience to stick with it. It was just a great play by him. Game-saving play, obviously. Huge.”
In this series against Tampa Bay, it’s been a fine line between winning and losing. Every game has been tight. Even Game 2 was a coin flip before the Lightning ran away with it early in the third. And it’s plays like the one Pulock on Saturday night possibility of being a seminal moment and a real turning point moving forward. But even more to that, that single play all reverts back to the transformation the Isles as a team have gone under since Trotz first came on board.
Now it’s a best-of-three to see if the Islanders can advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in 38 years. Those chances increased tremendously on Saturday with their triumph. They could have easily broken Saturday and headed back down to Tampa is a very deep hole for Game 5.
That’s not the case.
They stuck with it and pulled the rope in the moments it mattered the most.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @RTaub_