For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Todd Richards to break down the action. Richards will be checking in throughout the series.
Richards, 49, was the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2012-15 and the Minnesota Wild from 2009-11. The Blue Jackets were 127-112-21 under Richards. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2014.
Given the atmosphere at Barclays Center in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round between the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, one would have expected the Islanders to again feed off their crowd in Game 4 on Wednesday.
But the Islanders seemed tentative at the start of the 2-1 loss that has this best-of-7 series tied 2-2, and were outplayed in a first period that saw them outshot by a 10-5 margin.
"I don't know if the Islanders came out flat, but it seemed like the energy at the beginning of the game wasn't the same in comparison to the first three games," Todd Richards told NHL.com on Thursday. "That's what it felt like to me just watching the game. I always think that favors the road team.
"Once you get past those initial games, the series does settle down a little bit. But having said that, watching some of the other series, I watched San Jose play [Wednesday] night, and that building was rocking and going, and Minnesota was the same. I know it's a new building and it's kind of a new environment, so for me it's tough to get a feel for it."
Video: FLA@NYI, Gm4: Jagr finds Purcell to open the scoring
The inability to sustain any offensive zone time led to Islanders coach Jack Capuano shuffling his lines, including breaking up the second line of Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin, who haven't been able to support top center John Tavares, the scorer of New York's only goal in Game 4.
"You need contributions," Richards said. "As a coach, you're just trying to spark something or someone when you start juggling and mixing lines; you're looking for any type of spark. And who knows? Maybe there was an injury or there was an equipment malfunction where somebody was missing a shift here or there, or maybe it was just Jack saying, 'You know, I'm going to change things up and try to get a spark.'"
The series shifts back to BB&T Center for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, SUN, MSG+). Richards thinks it might be good for the Islanders to get back on the road, where they earned a split in the first two games and were solid in Game 2 despite a 3-1 loss.
"There's more of a focus, and sometimes when you play at home you get wrapped up in your crowd and what's going on with your crowd," Richards said. "There's certain momentum and energy you can get from your crowd, but it can only be a negative if the visiting team is coming out and doing its job. Instead of fans cheering and urging you on, they start booing you, and then that adds to a little bit more pressure.
"I think sometimes playing in the big games, I've seen Game 7s where I know a team's going home, they've got home ice, but I still think sometimes that's a little bit harder. Sometimes Game 7s are better to be played on the road."
Video: FLA@NYI, Gm4: Luongo makes a pad save on Okposo
The younger players in Florida's lineup have performed well in this series despite this being the first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of them. Richards applauded the efforts of Panthers general manager Dale Tallon for his ability to blend his youth with veterans such as goalie Roberto Luongo and forward Jaromir Jagr.
"They do seem poised, it's a credit to the coach and the coaching staff," Richards said. "But I think you have to give a lot of credit to the veteran players on their team. You look at the players that Dale Tallon has added, I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised by the success that they're having. They've got great young talented players and went out and got veteran character leadership guys. I think the young guys help the old guys as far as the energy, the enthusiasm, and the old guys can add the calmness to that, but can help the young guys feel comfortable and know that they can go out and do it."
As for Game 5, Richards believes the Islanders will have to again rely heavily on goalie Thomas Greiss early with the Panthers hoping to take advantage of playing again in front of their crowd.
"I think it's going to be one of those games where I'm expecting Florida to come out quick and hard," Richards said. "That's what they've seemed to do all series long, especially at home, and I know they did that in the regular season too. I'm expecting them to come out hard.
"The road team, the goalie's got to be good in the first 10 minutes or so, make a couple key saves, try to get the crowd to settle down and let your team settle in, and then get back to playing your game."