By Billy Jaffe
The Islanders persevered through all the adversity at the end of the season to reach the postseason, and they deserve it. It won't be easy for the Islanders in their first-round matchup against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres, but everyone knows in the NHL playoffs anything can happen. Here's my look at the keys to the Islanders' opening Eastern Conference Quarterfinal game versus Buffalo, which can be seen on FSN NY 2 at 8:00 pm. Pre-game show starts at 7:30 pm.
1. Play relaxed
One of the problems the Islanders had against Buffalo last game, when they surrendered five goals in the first period, was that they were too cautious. They came out so worried about sitting back that they had trouble with the puck, which was over handled. The Islanders have to make good decisions with the puck and that comes with being relaxed on the ice.
2. Make them work
The Islanders have to make the Sabres work. How do they do that? They have to limit turnovers and make good decisions on the forecheck. The third forechecker for the Islanders has to have good recognition of when to help down low or help with the backcheck, because the Sabres like to rush, often using the defenseman as the third man in. That means the Islanders' fourth man back has to be aware of the third forward filling in as the fourth Sabre on the attack.
3. Protect the house
As I've mentioned before on the FSN telecasts, the "house" is the area within 15 feet of the goaltender. There's no denying the Sabres' speed, so it's going to be tough to keep up with them on the perimeter. It's important that the Islanders protect the area close to Dubie. If they can clear pucks and bodies in front, the Islanders can deal with the Sabres buzzing around the outside.
4. Short shifts
Besides their speed, the Sabres are dangerous because they have three potent offensive lines and a fourth line that does see it's fair share of ice time, meaning the forwards stay fresh. With that in mind, it's imperative that the Islanders keep their shifts short in order to maximize their effectiveness and freshness.
5. Use the emotion against Buffalo
It's going to be an emotional game, and that sometimes leads to teams playing completely different than what they're capable of. Buffalo may come out trying to put on a show in front of their home crowd, so the Islanders might be able to use that against the Sabres to sneak by with a Game One victory. The Islanders need to play a solid road game and try not to get wrapped up in the emotion.
Catch Jaffe, Howie Rose and Deb Kaufman at 7:30 pm tonight on FSN NY 2 for the Islanders pre-game show. Islanders telecasts are produced by Kevin Meininger and directed by Larry Roth. You can catch the entire series against Buffalo on FSN NY and MSG.