The New York Islanders reveled in the moment following their 3-2 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals on Wednesday but were already looking ahead to the next moment by Thursday morning.
That, of course, will be Game 7 at Tampa Bay on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Islanders need another victory to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984 and end the Lightning’s bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. As exciting as it was to soak in the electric atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, with forward Anthony Beauvillier‘s goal 1:08 into overtime capping a comeback after falling behind 2-0 in Game 6, New York moved on quickly.
“We know what’s at stake. We’re going into a Game 7,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said Thursday before the Islanders’ flight to Tampa, Florida. “Obviously, it’s a big win last night and you enjoy it for a minute, but you turn the page and today is complete refocus and ready to go to work in one game.”
With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final at stake in that one game, New York coach Barry Trotz said he doesn’t feel the need to say much to his players other than to remind them what has gotten them this far.
“You play all year to get to this point and you get one opportunity, so it will be there,” Trotz said. “So just stay in the moment. Stay in the moment. Enjoy it. Embrace it and don’t get small. Don’t get wound up. Just stay in the moment, stay calm and give your best effort.”
That approach has served the Islanders well throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping them come from behind against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins in the first two rounds and getting them to Game 7 against the Lightning after they trailed 2-1 and 3-2 in the series. It also has proved to be a successful formula within games when they haven’t started well.
New York has come from behind in seven of their 11 wins in these playoffs. The only time the Islanders had more comeback playoff victories was in 1980, when they had nine on their way to winning the first of their four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
“I think our mentality is the same all the time,” forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “I said this earlier in the playoffs, it’s about narrowing your window of focus and just focusing on what’s in front of you. During the game, it’s just the next shift, it’s the next puck. If you get down a couple in a game, what can you really do but just continue to be yourself and really just keep going and if you get it you get, if you don’t you don’t.
“Obviously, you’d like to get up early in a game, but we’ve had a lot of situations in the playoffs where that hasn’t been the case and we won those games, too. So for us, it’s just about worrying about what you’re going to do the next time you step over the boards.”
Having a short memory can be helpful, especially when the Islanders’ last visit to Amalie Arena was a humbling 8-0 loss in Game 5 on Monday.
“It was a disaster actually, to be accurate,” Trotz said.
But the Islanders put it behind them, just as they did their comeback win Wednesday.
Trotz has spoken often about how momentum doesn’t carry over from game to game in the playoffs, but confidence does. Trotz, who coached the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018, remembers well the confidence the Capitals gained from a 3-0 victory against the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final that season and how it helped them in winning 4-0 in Game 7 at Amalie Arena.
“I think you’re going to have two focused teams, Game 7, with a chance to go to the Stanley Cup,” Trotz said. “It doesn’t get much better than that for either organization and all the players and all the coaches. It just doesn’t. These are things that when you’re a young kid or young coach, you dream of these situations. So there’s one tomorrow night and that’s fantastic.”
The Islanders have a positive Game 7 experience to lean upon from a 4-0 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. New York has 17 players remaining from the 20 who played in that game, including defensemen Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene, forward Brock Nelson and Beauvillier, who each scored goals.
“I think for myself and the team, you don’t really think of it necessarily as a Game 7,” Pulock said. “It’s another hockey game that you’ve got to bring your best and win and move on or lose and go home. So I think for us our focus is just going to be on the right things and we’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to be ready to bring our best.”