Although Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Islanders and Penguins didn’t go the way the Islanders had anticipated, Jack Capuano’s squad knows what it takes to bounce back from a disappointing start to the postseason.
While the execution wasn’t there in the series opener, Capuano has seen his club bounce back in the past.
“We have faced adversity throughout the year,” Capuano said after Thursday’s practice at CONSOL Energy Center. “While we’ve had hiccups along the way, this team has always responded. One thing about our club is that we’ve found a way to get back on track.”
Some may have counted the Islanders out after the team’s five-game losing streak in February. Capuano wouldn’t let that happen and instilled a style of play that took the team to the playoffs.
Now, back in the postseason for the first time in six years, the Islanders must reclaim that style.
“It’s when every line gets pucks in and we get lots of cycling, just working the puck beneath the goal line and beneath the tops of the circles,” forward Colin McDonald said. “We just had a hard time getting to our game Wednesday for whatever reason. I don’t know what the explanation could be, but we didn’t do it last night.”
Despite the loss, McDonald and the Islanders understand that it was only one game of a best-of-seven series. There’s still plenty of time left to change the momentum and that turnaround could begin Friday night in Game 2.
“That’s in the past. It’s cliché but it really is just one game, McDonald said. “There are six games left for a chance to win four.
Islanders forward Josh Bailey, whose line with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen was a catalyst to the Islanders surge up the Eastern Conference standings through March and April, agreed with McDonald.
“I think when we play our best we’re a strong forechecking team,” Bailey said. “We get pucks in; we pound the other team’s D and use our speed to our advantage. All the little things are what I think has gotten us to this point. We have to bring a lot more of that tomorrow night.“
One of the ‘little things’ that helps win games is sacrificing the body to block shots. Pittsburgh blocked 22 of the Isles’ shots in Game 1 compared to just 12 blocks by the Islanders. During a stretch late in the season in which the Islanders went 11-1-2, the Isles blocked more shots than their opponent in eight of the 11 wins.
In addition to sustaining a cycle on the forecheck and blocking shots, bringing a physical element to the game throughout the entire 60 minutes will be vital to the team’s success. Although the Isles out-hit the Penguins 41-36 in Game 1, nearly half of those hits were accumulated by just two players in Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas.
The Islanders’ leading scorer throughout the regular season, John Tavares, knows that everyone in the lineup needs to bring the physical dynamic to the rest of the series.
“A lot of sacrifices are made [to win]. It’s going to hurt a little bit,” Tavares said. “I try to be physical myself. I tried to finish some hits. It’s a part of the playoffs.”
Islanders Captain Mark Streit has the same mindset as Tavares when it comes to bringing a physical style of play in the postseason.
“It’s the playoffs,” Streit said. “You have to play physical and finish your checks. That’s a key and we certainly have to be more physical than we were last night.”
The captain also knows the Isles can’t dwell on defeat. A chance to even the series and turn home ice advantage back to New York is just around the corner.
“That’s behind us,” Streit said. “We lost. They played a strong game and now it’s time to move forward and really concentrate on the next game.”
The Islanders are ready to bring that style of play that made them so successful in the second half of the regular season into Game 2. As long as they do, there’s no reason this series shouldn’t be tied headed back on Long Island for Sunday’s Game 3.