The New York Islanders wrapped up their regular season Sunday by playing for the fifth time in a week. They admitted that preparations for their Eastern Conference First Round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs won't begin until Monday morning.
Monday they begin to get ready for the Florida Panthers, who became their opponent when the horn sounded on a 5-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers at Barclays Center on Sunday. A win would have meant a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and a first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the loss kept the Islanders as the first wild card.
"It's been such a long week," coach Jack Capuano said. "Five (games) in seven [days]. We got prepared the last probably two or three days that once we found out (it would be Florida or Pittsburgh), we had all the tape that we need. It was just a matter of time before we knew who we were going to play before we start breaking it down."
The Islanders face the Panthers, who have a blend of youth and experience. Led by 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr -- whose 66 points this season are four fewer than Islanders captain John Tavares -- Florida won 47 games and, ultimately, the Atlantic Division title.
"They have a lot of young talent," Islanders forward Matt Martin. "And a very old talented player. He's been one of the best players in the League for a long time. Defense, forwards, goaltending … they're a deep, strong team. The coaches will put together a game plan for us, but everyone in this room knows it's going to be a hard series.
"Hopefully we get some good fan support out there, which we generally do have. A lot of New Yorkers out there in Florida, so hopefully we get the fans out and use it to our advantage."
It's been 23 years since the Islanders last competed in the second round of the playoffs, when they defeated Jagr and the Penguins in seven games to reach the 1993 Wales Conference Final. New York came close a year ago, but fell to the Washington Capitals in a physical seven-game series.
"It's another level," right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. "You're playing one team over the course of a potential seven games. The little things you do in Game 1 can come back and hurt you or help you in a Game 7. It's a marathon, not a sprint. I think the team that wears the other one down is usually the one that wins."
A key for the Islanders will try to come up with a plan to stop, or at least contain, Jagr. But that's easier said than done.
I think people have been trying to figure that out for 20-plus years," Martin said. "Who knows really? I think we just have to limit his time and space. He's a big body, he's been around a long time and makes a lot of great plays. We just need to be hard on him and hard on their whole team."
After being hit hard by the injury bug the past month, the Islanders have been receiving some good news of late; defenseman Travis Hamonic and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who are out with lower-body injuries, have resumed skating. Hamonic appears to be closer to returning, and his presence could be vital if New York plans to advance.
But even if Hamonic isn't ready, the Islanders must find a way to win four of the next seven games and show to their fan base that progress is being made.
"We know the kind of team we have and the kind of team we can be," Martin said. "We just need to prove it."