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Five keys for Islanders, Panthers, Game 5

Trocheck's possible return could spur Florida; New York needs more from fourth line

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers play Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round Series at BB&T Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, SUN, MSG+).

Here are five keys for Game 5:

1. Will Trocheck return?: Panthers center Vincent Trocheck will be a game-time decision; he hasn't played since March 29 because of a foot injury. Trocheck had 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists) in 76 games on mostly Florida's second line during the regular season.

"There's a possibility, yeah," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm not saying he's playing tonight, but he's going to be a game-time decision. He's skating well, he feels real good. We'll make a decision tonight.

"He's been missed. He's a big part of our hockey team and he got injured. He'll be a big help to our lineup, but he's missed four weeks now, so it'll be tough. But we're going to get him back soon, whether it's tonight or Sunday or Game 7, we'll see him."

2. Zidlicky in for Pulock: Islanders rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock, who has a goal and two assists in four Stanley Cup Playoff games, is expected to miss the remainder of the series after sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 4. He will be replaced Friday by 39-year-old Marek Zidlicky, who has 44 games of postseason experience on his resume. 

"I'm really excited I get to play again," said Zidlicky, who hasn't played since the Islanders' regular-season finale April 10. "It's tough when you watch from upstairs, it's not easy. But I'm really happy.

"You have to be ready. At my age, I know what I have to do for myself, so you have to be ready and be prepared for every game."

Video: DET@NYI: Zidlicky beats Howard with a backhander

3. Home again: Florida returns to BB&T Center after managing a split in front of raucous crowds for Games 3 and 4 in Brooklyn. The Panthers are counting on their fans to provide a hostile environment for the Islanders, who will try to bring a 3-2 series lead back to New York for Game 6 on Sunday.

"It's huge," Panthers forward Garrett Wilson said. "Hopefully the building is going to be rocking tonight. We've got a big building here, so hopefully we can fill her up and it's going to be loud. We're really going to feed off it.

"Playing in New York, the crowd there was pretty loud. If we can match that, it would be huge for us."

4. Going fourth: The Islanders haven't gotten nearly enough from their fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, who don't have a point and have combined for a minus-7 rating in the series. It is imperative they play a physical game but stay out of the penalty box; Martin's tripping penalty in the second period of Game 4 led to Teddy Purcell's power-play goal that gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

"I think we want to do more," Martin said. "I don't think we've been bad, but I think we want to control the pace of play. Obviously playoff time, a 2-2 series, it's a big game and it's one we want to step up in. We want to be effective. Obviously we're relied on to be physical and provide energy. We just need to do a little bit more. I think tonight is a very good opportunity for us to provide that."

"They're a physical line," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "They also contribute on the score sheet, so you've got to play them just as hard as they're playing us. I think we're kind of countering a little bit on them. Obviously, they're skilled and physical guys. Whoever's out there against them is aware of their presence a little bit. But we can't back down too much from them."

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Cizikas puts a big hit on Gudbranson

5. Islanders relying on experience: Not only is Zidlicky going to play for New York, but there's a good chance forward Steve Bernier will make his series debut. Bernier was off the ice Friday morning long before forward Ryan Strome, an indication Islanders coach Jack Capuano is leaning toward a change for Game 5.

Bernier, 31, has nine goals and 14 assists in 68 career playoff games with the New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks.

Capuano hasn't been shy to take some younger skilled players out of the lineup in the playoffs; last postseason, he sat Anders Lee out of Games 6 and 7 against the Washington Capitals, despite Lee scoring 25 goals during the regular season.

Strome struggled during the 2015-16 regular season, but has a goal and an assist in this series.

"When you make lineup changes, it's probably the toughest decision that you have to make, because they are kids and they're still young," Capuano said. "Everybody questions why you do it, but I don't think you guys see internally what we see when we go through the analysis and what's going to help our team. It's always tough.

"It's a situation where you hope they learn from it. That's the biggest thing as young players, that you learn from the experiences that you're going through. It's tough, there's no question about it, but at the end of the day you have other guys that you can put in that have some playoff experience that are older guys at this time of year that you need."

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