For eight days, the New York Islanders were doing twice the work, prepping two separate game plans for the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes.
On Wednesday night, at precisely 11:31 p.m., the Isles finally got some clarity, as the Hurricanes advanced to the second round with a 4-3 double-OT win over the Caps. Regardless of who won, the Islanders were just happy to have a definitive opponent and schedule, and to know that they'll be back on the ice after a week of practice. There was a palpable feeling of excitement during Thursday's practice at Northwell Health Ice Center.
"I could tell that we were overbaked, overcooked a little bit, we just want to play," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "You could tell that there are guys turning the switch on a little bit more. Not that they've turned it off. They've done a really good job. The urgency is definitely there, they were a little more businesslike [today]."
Video: Practice Update 4/25: Barry Trotz
The focus is now solely on Carolina, who come to Brooklyn for Game 1 on Friday night at Barclays Center (7 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
The Islanders will spend the next day finalizing their initial preparations and re-learning the Hurricanes, as the two teams haven't played each other in four months. The Isles went 3-1-0 against their Metropolitan Division rivals this season, winning the first three meetings in October and November, before dropping the final meeting on Jan. 8.
If there is anything to be taken from those meetings, it's that the Hurricanes like to push the pace and shoot the puck a lot, as Carolina led the NHL with an average of 34.4 shots per game. They outshot the Islanders 112-59 in the first three meetings of the season - all Isles wins.
The fast-paced, throw everything at the net mentality, is at odds with the Islanders' structured, low-event, defensive approach. After holding the Pittsburgh Penguins to six goals in four games in the first round, the Isles have good reason to believe in their philosophy, but know replicating that stinginess won't be easy."
"The common denominator between both teams is we're two hard-working teams," Robin Lehner said. "We're pretty similar that way. I'm expecting a hard series. It's going to be hard to suffocate them and they are going to have a hard time suffocating us."
Video: Practice Update 4/25: Mathew Barzal
"It'll be like every series, it'll be small margins of error," Lehner added. "It'll be who is sticking to the details, who is making the extra play and sticking to their system. It'll be a very tight, tight series."
Despite their regular-season series, and Carolina's wild card status, the Islanders are not taking the Hurricanes, who have proven to be a resilient and pesky group this season, lightly. Carolina went 30-12-2 from Jan. 1 on, battled back from a 2-0 series deficit against the Washington Capitals and overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to win Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
"They don't go away easy," Trotz said of the Hurricanes. "They've been a really good team all year, and in the second half, they were grinding it out every night and playing the same way and playing for each other."
Like the Islanders, the Hurricanes bring a full-team approach to the table. While Sebastian Aho (30G, 53A) and Tuevo Teravainen ( 21G, 55A) are notable names, 13 Hurricanes scored at least 10 goals this season. As far as the postseason, Warren Foegele (4G), Jordan Staal (3G), Dougie Hamilton (3G) and Teravainen are finding the back of the net and defenseman Jaccob Slavin leads the team with nine points.
"They have a pretty deep roster similar to us," Thomas Hickey said. "They attack as a group of five, forecheck as a group of five. We're definitely different hockey teams, but the one similar trait is there's no one guy that sticks out, it's a group. That's why they are here, that's why we're here. We've been able to get so many people involved."
Video: Practice Update 4/25: Anders Lee
The Islanders are looking to utilize whatever advantages they can get. The lengthy layoff allowed the team - namely Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield - to get healthy, and they'll also have home-ice advantage for a second straight series.
They've also had lots of time to prep and to get their game in order for puck drop on Friday.
"We've been trying to build up for today and for tomorrow," captain Anders Lee said. "A week ago we had plenty of time. That intensity, that focus, that internal excitement gets going and today we were pretty upbeat and trying to fire on all cylinders."