FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Islanders need to pull themselves together after a hugely disappointing Game 4, and they’ll have to try to wrestle this first-round series back from the Panthers on Friday night without Ryan Pulock.
The promising rookie defenseman, who had three points in the past two games, did not travel to Florida with the Islanders for Game 5 and likely is done for the series with an upper-body injury suffered in the third period on Wednesday night.
“We’re pretty sure he’s going to miss the rest of the series,” Jack Capuano told Newsday just after the Islanders arrived here Thursday. “It’s a big loss. He’s a young guy who was playing real well, he had a couple points, a big goal [in Game 3]. It’s a little more adversity we’ll have to battle back from.”
Even if the Islanders were fully healthy, Capuano had plenty to wrestle with heading into Game 5 in a series that’s even at 2-2 but feels as if the Islanders have fallen behind.
They were coming off the high of Thomas Hickey’s Game 3 overtime winner and had a chance to seize the advantage in the series Wednesday night before their own crowd at Barclays Center. Instead, the Isles came out inexplicably flat and listless, muddling through a scoreless first period before dropping a 2-1 decision on Alex Petrovic’s goal midway through the third — scored with an injured Pulock on the ice, having just been hit hard and cleanly by the Panthers’ Garrett Wilson.
Capuano spoke to Newsday as he prepared for a team meeting in which some unpleasant video would be shown.
“It’s not video you’d like to be shown in,” he said. “It’s the short cuts, the lack of energy, the lack of battle level we need and that we didn’t have last night . . . There’s some embarrassing moments in there.”
Capuano singled out three of his forwards three weeks ago and challenged his team to step up and grab its opportunity to make the playoffs. The team responded with back-to-back wins.
Capuano wasn’t interested in naming names Thursday, other than to say the Islanders’ leaders have the chance to do the challenging in advance of Game 5.
“When Johnny [Tavares] sees some guys not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, when Fransy [Nielsen] and Kyle [Okposo] see the video, it’s their opportunity to take charge in the room,” Capuano said. “It’s their team and their time of the year. We can’t rely on those three guys to be our whole offense, and I think the whole team understands that.”
Capuano said he hasn’t decided who will play in Pulock’s spot. Adam Pelech, another rookie, could make his playoff debut, but the lefthanded Pelech would have to play his off side. Righty Marek Zidlicky or Brian Strait, a lefty who has played the right side often this season, are other options.
The coach did not discount making a change at forward. Steve Bernier and Eric Boulton are the spare forwards and neither likely would alter the series, but Capuano also knows he can’t be much more patient with the nine forwards outside of the Nielsen-Tavares-Okposo line who have totaled three goals in four games.
Capuano has faith in his current group. “When we’ve had these meetings before this year, the guys have responded,” he said. “When our backs were against the wall three weeks ago, the guys answered the bell. Your work ethic dictates how we play. And we need guys to come out with the right energy tomorrow, the right battle level, and that’s more important than any system.”