SECAUCUS, N.J. — The players from the Islanders and Lightning took Wednesday off before returning to the ice for full practices on Thursday, but other New York-area hockey voices still were talking about the teams’ playoff series in the meantime.
For example: Across the Hudson in Secaucus, home of the NHL Network, where analysts were busy Wednesday night watching Game 4 of Capitals-Penguins but happy to answer questions about the other Eastern Conference semifinal.
Let’s ask three former players with ties to one or more of the three metropolitan-area teams:
Kevin Weekes, a retired goalie who played for all three New York-area teams, said of the Islanders’ overtime loss in Game 3 Tuesday, “Tough loss. C’mon. Tough loss.”
Still, he said, he is confident they can bounce back. “I thought the Islanders were going to win the game,” he said. “Hands down, I had them to win that game. They had the game! They had the game in their hands! It was right here. They fumbled the game.
“Then you go into OT and I just think it was a function of being inexperienced, really. Tampa having gone to a Cup Final last year and just knowing the guys in both locker rooms, Tampa just has a lot of guys with experience. Just look at a Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan. They’ve both been to a Cup Final, and they know. Boyle’s been to two, with the Rangers and Tampa.
“So there’s something to be said for that experience in the room. But having said that, the Islanders are lock-step right now, really, with the Eastern Conference champ from last year that came within two games of winning the Cup Final. So if the Islanders can just tighten up a few things in the D zone, their play without the puck in a few aspects, if they can tighten that up, why not?
“They had a great home record at Barclays this year. They were awesome at Barclays in the regular season.”
Not surprisingly, Weekes pointed to John Tavares as a key. “J.T. looked like J.T. down the stretch,” he said. “His game turned up, he got the team going and put the team on his back and said, ‘Guys, we’re going.’ ”
Former Devil and Ranger John MacLean said, “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year, and I think that’s something Jack [Capuano] has kind of preached to them. They had what they needed going [in Game 3].
“When we identify the Islanders we identify their fourth line. Those guys showed up again and the magic just wasn’t able to hold on. But you never count them out. They’re going to get through things but it’s always going to be a battle for them. Nothing is going to go easy for them.
“The Islanders, some nights you go, ‘How does this team lose?’ They have a quiet superstar in Tavares and their D are pretty good and [goaltender Thomas] Greiss has played great. But on different nights you’re not sure . . . They’re a fun team to watch. When you have guy like John Tavares, it’s always fun watching. They have the ingredients there, they just haven’t kind of molded it all yet together where you can count on them every night.”
Mike Rupp, who was drafted by the Islanders and played for the Devils and Rangers, said, “I’ve been saying all year — which I kind of feel weird about because I didn’t see the Penguins getting this good — that the only two teams I felt like in the East that could beat Washington by the build of their team were the Rangers and the Islanders.
“But I think Tampa wins that series. The Islanders, to me, in the playoffs it’s great when Tavares can do what he does, but they rely so heavily on him, they need someone else to step up not just for a game like you had Josh Bailey who was big [in Game 3], but they need someone every game to step up and I just don’t see it.
“The fourth line is unbelievable but I just feel like there’s two lines you worry about and the other two are a mixed bag. You don’t know what you’re going to get. With Tampa you know what you’re going to get a little bit more. But I love the direction the Islanders are going.”