"We have to earn the right to keep playing."
That was the sentiment from Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz and Captain Anders Lee after the Isles dropped Game 3 5-2 on Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes and fell behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series.
The loss pushed the Islanders to the brink of elimination and they will fight to keep their season alive on Friday night. For an intents and purposes, Game 4 is effectively a Game 7 for the Islanders.
"You have to man up a little bit here and realize where you are," Trotz said. "Tomorrow is a Game 7. That's how you have to look at it. That's the mindset. "
"There are 23 teams that would love to be playing tomorrow night," Trotz added. "Tomorrow night is the chance to start correcting it the right way and focus on that. It's always a great opportunity, you're still alive and still playing."
The road ahead for the Islanders is tough, but not impossible. Only four teams have ever rallied back to win a series when down 3-0 - the 1975 Islanders being among them - but two of those comebacks have occurred in the past nine seasons. The 2014 LA Kings are the most recent team to do it roaring back against San Jose, while the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers upset the Boston Bruins.
"We believe that we can do it. Everybody else it looks like we're done, but in our minds we can do it," Matt Martin said. "We've stuck together all year and defied some of the odds and we're hoping to do that again in this series."
Winning four straight is a tall task, so the Islanders are breaking down the challenge, focusing on Friday's game. The immediate objective is to force a Game 5 on Sunday in Brooklyn.
"If you look at a staircase and you look at the top, it looks like quite the climb, but if you take it one step at a time you'll be alright," Martin said.
The Islanders are leaning on their character if they are to mount a comeback. That was evident in the aftermath of Game 3, as the team wouldn't let Robin Lehner shoulder responsibility, even as the goalie tried to focus attention on himself.
"I appreciate him doing that, but we win and lose as a team," Trotz said on Wednesday.
The first step was regrouping at Thursday's practice. Trotz has preached the process all year long and he doesn't plan to veer away from it now. Games 1 was a coin flip and Game 2 was a few shots off the post away from going the Islanders way. Game 3 was tied 2-2 with 10 minutes to play in the third, so it hasn't been as one-sided as a 3-0 deficit suggests.
"You look at the series and it's 3-0, but it's overtime and a late goal yesterday and a tight game before that. It's not like we're far off, these games are very tight," Jordan Eberle said. "We just have to find a way to maybe not make that last mistake or finish a couple of chances that we've had. It comes down to that. Playoffs are always that tight."
So the Islanders are relying on their process breaking through and their character staying composed under the pressure. They were upbeat and even keeled at Thursday's skate and still believe they have a chance to win four straight, as they did against Pittsburgh in round one.
"We have four game 7s ahead of us," Eberle said. "We have to start with tomorrow. We can't think too far ahead and worry about getting tomorrow's win and doing everything we can and then go from there."
It's a long road back, but if they are to keep their season alive, they are going to have to earn it on Friday.
FOUR ISLES TAKE MAINTENANCE DAYS:
Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Kuhnhackl, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech all took maintenance days on Thursday, but are expected to be available for Friday.
TROTZ HINTS AT LINEUP CHANGES:
Trotz said that lineup changes were on the table for Game 4, but did not elaborate. Check back for Friday's game preview and morning skate updates, as well as @NYIslanders for the latest updates.