The New York Islanders are determined to reclaim their identity when they host Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
After an out-of-character sloppy performance in an 8-0 loss in Game 5 on Monday left it trailing the best-of-7 series, New York knows it must get back to its defensive structure and total team commitment to force Game 7 at Tampa Bay on Friday.
“You wake up this morning and it’s a new day,” Islanders center Casey Cisikas said Tuesday. “That’s the beauty of the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. It’s a seven-game series. It’s not just one game. So you’re going to see a different team tomorrow night. We’re excited to get back out there and prove that we are a better team.”
The Islanders acknowledged it would be difficult to play worse. Repeated turnovers led to odd-man rushes and high-danger scoring chances for the Lightning, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period.
New York also lost discipline and gave Tampa Bay six power plays, including four in a row in the second period. The defending Stanley Cup champions made the Islanders pay by scoring three times with the man-advantage.
“If we were sitting here and we were just sitting in our backyard [with] all the guys just having a cold one, we would be saying, ‘That wasn’t us last night. We know we’re better than that.’ That’s what you’d hear,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Then, we’d say, ‘We’ve got to get back to our game.’ Our game is what? Having good structure and real good work ethic. Go to the net hard. Force turnovers. Play good defense. Stay disciplined and play 200 feet and have a lot of battle in our game.
“And if we do that, then we usually have pretty good results.”
That formula has helped the Islanders reach the third round of the playoffs for two straight seasons, so New York knows going back to it will be essential when it faces elimination for the first time this postseason Wednesday.
“We’ll definitely respond tomorrow,” forward Jordan Eberle said. “Obviously you’ve got the home crowd behind you and we always play our best hockey at home. So you’ll see a different team tomorrow, for sure.”
The Islanders are counting on getting a boost from the crowd in what could be their final game at Nassau Coliseum. They are scheduled to begin playing at UBS Arena, which is under construction, at the start of next season, but have thrived at the Coliseum this season. The Islanders were 21-4-3 at home during the regular season and are 5-3 at the Coliseum in the playoffs.
“That’s our building,” Cizikas said. “We go out there, our fans get us going every single time. They’re behind us no matter what and we feed off of that energy. We love playing in that building, we love playing in front of them and that’s where we play our best hockey.”
Trotz said he reminded the Islanders before the semifinals that the path isn’t always easy. When Trotz coached the Washington Capitals against the Lightning in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, the Capitals won the first two games but then lost the next three.
Facing elimination, the Capitals regrouped to win 3-0 in Game 6 at home and 4-0 in Game 7 on the road before going on to win the Stanley Cup.
“Tomorrow night’s game means how much you want to commit to have one shot at going to the Stanley Cup Final,” Trotz said. “How much are you willing to commit tomorrow? That’s really the message. Go after it, guys, because you only get so many cracks at this.”
The Islanders, who lost to the Lightning in the conference final last season in six games, played them essentially even through the first four games of this series, with each team winning twice and Tampa Bay holding an 9-8 edge in goals. New York lost its way in Game 5 but is confident it will rebound.
“You’ll get our best,” Trotz said. “Whatever we have left, you’re going to get our best tomorrow.”