NEW YORK -- One year ago, the New York Islanders and defenseman Matt Carkner were standing toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins, owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders not only split the first four games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, they sent Marc-Andre Fleury, one of the NHL's top goaltenders, to the bench.
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Carkner on comebacks, Canadiens
Comebacks have been the order of the day during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All three games Wednesday saw teams overcome deficits to even its series at 2-2. The eight games in which the winning team has overcome a deficit of two or more goals match the total for the entire 2013 postseason.
"If you're watching the game in the first period at home and you go to put your kids to bed or something and go read them a book, and then come down for the third, there's two different games going on," Islanders defenseman Matt Carkner said Thursday while visiting the NHL offices. "The momentum swings and just the all-out intensity is pretty cool to see. I think it's great for the fans to know either team has a chance. That's the way it's going to be for a long time."
One team, the Montreal Canadiens, has moved on to the Eastern Conference Second Round following a four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lighting. Montreal will face the winner of the Boston Bruins-Detroit Red Wings series.
Carkner's Islanders beat the Canadiens 2-0 on April 10 at Bell Centre. But the Montreal team waiting for winner of Red Wings-Bruins series bears little resemblance to the one that had 10 players combine to score 16 goals in the sweep of the Lightning.
"With them, with their speed and their play, they try and cheat a little bit," Carkner said. "Once they get the puck they're going the other way. They're looking for those breakaway and odd man rush opportunities. For us we just played a tight gap, we tried to keep everything as tight as we can, stay in their face, slow them down and grind their D out. We tried to cycle their puck in the zone, tire them out and find opportunities around the net when we could."
-- Jon Lane
"We wanted to go for the throat," Carkner said. "Obviously Pittsburgh's a good team and they have their plans as well. It's so up in the air what's going to happen. I'm excited to see it."
Carkner visited the NHL offices Thursday as part of the League's Take Your Child to Work Day. He also spoke with NHL.com about a first round of the playoffs that has seen the winning team overcome a deficit of at least one goal in 22 of the 28 games played so far, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Columbus tied Game 4 when Fleury's mishandling of the puck led to Brandon Dubinsky's goal with 24 seconds left in regulation; Nick Foligno's wrister from just inside the blue line trickled past Fleury 2:49 into OT to even the series. Even though Fleury stopped 42 shots, he'll be remembered for the two stops he didn't make.
It's been a familiar refrain for Fleury, who won 39 games during the regular season but has struggled in the playoffs since leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. He has a 3.18 GAA and .903 save percentage through four games in the 2014 playoffs.
"It seems to be the common theme during the playoffs," Carkner said. "I don't know if the pressure gets to him or whatever it is, or if teams really know they've got to get under his skin.
"I'm sure [Blue Jackets coach] Todd Richards is probably the first one to say let's get some weak shots on him. He's going to struggle. He's got playoff nerves."
Carkner said the Islanders knew Fleury was struggling last year and played accordingly.
"We were shooting pucks from behind the net and he was getting out of position and he was falling out of his net," he said. "He let a few weak ones in, and I think at that point Bylsma saw that he was struggling and wasn't making the easy saves, and it became evident that he had to make a change."
Vokoun's numbers against the Islanders (17-7, 1.95 goals-against average, .937 save percentage) might have helped Bylsma make the change last year, but Carkner believes a switch to rookie backup Jeff Zatkoff isn't imminent.
"I know he loves to play Fleury. He's going to stick with him," Carkner said. "I don't think they'll be a change unless it's really, really evident that they need to do so. I think you have to play him to get him over this. He has to overcome this. He's a franchise player. He has to play in the playoffs."
Carkner recalls the Islanders' confidence heading into Game 5 in Pittsburgh last season and senses a similar feeling among the Blue Jackets, whose Game 4 win was the first playoff victory on home ice in franchise history.
"I think the Jackets see what they have to do," Carkner said. "They have to be relentless, they have to keep the pressure on, get the puck in, work the cycle, get to the net, get people and pucks to the net and basically grind them out. There's nothing left to lose but to just throw it all out there and go all out at them."