Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome admitted to having nerves heading into Game One against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
They had little-to-no playoff experience, and everyone from coaches to teammates to analysts told them how intense, physical and difficult it was going to be.
But rather than falling victim to the moment, the two sophomores seized it before 18,000 red-clad, screaming fans at Verizon Center. Nelson scored twice, silencing the crowd six minutes into the game and icing the game with an empty-netter, while Strome potted the game-winner.
“There was some anxiety, some butterflies, but you use that as motivation and energy,” Nelson said after the game. “It fuels you. When the game starts, you get a little adrenaline and let it take over.”
Strome said the key to handling the postseason pressure was to just match the intensity of the moment, take a hit and play hockey. After all, it’s the same arena the Islanders visited twice in the regular season.
“It took a little bit to get accustomed for me, a shift or two,” Strome said after Wednesday’s game. “Try to get a hit in and get hit early. Other than that, it was just a hard-hitting, fun game.”
Strome was confident enough after the early goings to call his goal, a set face-off play where he rolled behind John Tavares off the draw to quickly snap the puck on net.
“I guess when you call 100 of them and you get one, it feels good,” Strome said, appearing loose and relaxed at Thursday’s optional skate.
Strome and Nelson were both key contributors to the Islanders most successful season since 1983-84. Strome was third on the team with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists), while Nelson was third in goals with 20 and fifth in points (42).
“They've been huge for us all year and a big part of our success, so I don’t think that’s a surprise,” Tavares said Wednesday. “Everyone has been growing and maturing and we realize this is a great opportunity, so you get to playoff hockey and everyone is stepping up their game and it’s crucial for those guys to make impacts.”
Strome and Nelson kept cool Thursday, maintaining an even keel. They’ve only won one game and there’s a long road ahead. They expect a fierce rematch from a hungry Capitals team.
Strome said there are nerves and excitement before every game, so Friday, Sunday and Tuesday shouldn’t be any different. They’ll just have to channel the same nerves they had Wednesday night.
Nerves of steel.