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Five keys for Islanders vs. Panthers, Game 6

New York can win first postseason series since 1993

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers play Game 6 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Barclays Center on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG+, SUN). The Islanders lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

1. Finish the job: The Islanders haven't won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993, but they've been presented an opportunity to end the hex with a win Sunday. A loss means a flight back to Florida for a Game 7 on Tuesday. They'll try to avoid that at all costs.

"Appreciate the opportunity," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "It's not every day that you get to play in situations like this. In the dog days of the middle of the season, you're dreaming of opportunities like this to play, and be able to step up in these situations and have a great challenge ahead of you and an opportunity to do something pretty cool. We're excited about the challenge, but we know they're obviously going to come out extremely hard when their backs are up against the wall. We've got to make sure that we're ready to rock."

2. Bjugstad out: The Panthers got center Vincent Trocheck back from a foot injury for Game 5, but they will be without center Nick Bjugstad on Sunday. Bjugstad sustained an upper-body injury in overtime Friday and is day-to-day. Bjugstad, who did not travel to New York, has two goals and two assists in the series.

"That's happened to us I think the last three or four months of the season," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "Every time we get one of our centers back, one guy goes out the next day. That's part of the game, that's part of the playoffs. What do you do? You move forward, you keep going. We'd definitely like to have all three centers playing, but injuries happen."

3. More help for Greiss: The goaltending by Thomas Greiss is the biggest reason why New York has a chance to close out the series in Game 6; he made 47 saves in a 2-1 double-overtime win Friday. But the Islanders know they can't simply rely on Greiss to carry them to victory Sunday; they must find a way to generate more time in the offensive zone, particularly at even strength.

"I think we want to get in on the forecheck and obviously disrupt them coming out of their own end and use our quickness," captain John Tavares said. "Be decisive and confident making plays and then moving the puck and obviously getting to the net."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss robs Barkov's penalty shot in OT

4. Stay out of the box: Florida has controlled the play 5-on-5 for the majority of the series, yet finds itself down 3-2 heading into Game 6. The Panthers took two penalties after the third period Friday. The second, a slashing penalty against Derek MacKenzie, led to Alan Quine's game-winning goal. The Panthers know they must play a more disciplined game Sunday.

"It's like every coach talks about; stay away from the penalties," Gallant said. "Keep the sticks on the puck. We've taken too many penalties in the series, but it's part of the game."

5. Bedlam in Brooklyn: The crowd at Barclays Center was electric for Games 3 and 4, but it should be even louder Sunday with the Islanders having a chance to win a postseason series for the first time in 23 years. They certainly want to reward their fans with a win, but realize they can't let the emotions get the best of them.

"I hope it's not a challenge for us. I hope we can channel the crowd that we have and use that to our advantage," coach Jack Capuano said. "That's the big thing. [The Panthers] are desperate, they're going to play hard. No matter what happens the first five minutes, the 35-minute mark, you've just got to make sure you stay focused the best you can for 60 minutes. But we definitely at home ice have to utilize the crowd that we have because we have to build that energy. I think once we get going, get a hit in, a couple of hits in right away, get some shots, hopefully we can feed off that."

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