If the New York Islanders are going down, they’re going to go down with the horses that got them this far.
But their lineup might look a little different.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz admitted that he is considering shaking up his top line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anders Lee ahead of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports).
The Islanders’ backs are firmly up against the proverbial wall down 3-1 in the best-of-seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning in which their power play and their first line have struggled to get on the board.
They’re the most notable culprits of the Islanders’ recent struggles as the power play has gone 1-for-14 on the man advantage while Barzal, Lee and Eberle have combined for just a single goal.
“They’re proud athletes. Anyone who considers themselves a really good player… when they’re not having the success that they’d like, it weighs on them,” Trotz said on Monday afternoon. “They put a little pressure on themselves, the fans put pressure… it’s something they have to deal with.”
Eberle has the lone tally, which came on the power play during an 8-2 loss during Game 1 last week.
“We’d love to be producing more than we have,” Lee said. “We understand that it’s a big part of our team’s lineup is that everyone has to chip in in some form or fashion. Our line has been producing, it’s been a little dry as of late.”
“I think it’s a matter of putting the puck in the back of the net and creating high-danger scoring chances,” Barzal added. “We haven’t created enough of those.”
One more loss to the Lightning means the Islanders’ weird, winding season that has gone further than many expected just six months ago will be over a few wins short of making their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984.
A harrowing concept to be faced with, especially considering this is an Islanders team that has spent the last six weeks in multiple bubbles across Canada, reeled off two-straight upsets, and played more hockey than any of the remaining teams.
But the Islanders’ resolute and organized ways have fallen under siege by a high-powered Lightning team that has posted 17 goals over the first four games of the conference final.
They allowed 16 goals in seven games against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round and just eight in five games against the Washington Capitals.
But none of those past playoff opponents have a first line as potent as the Lightning’s — the combination of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat running roughshod over New York. Their combined eight goals this series are just one fewer than the Islanders’ entire offensive output.
“They’re all good players. They’re outstanding players,” Trotz said following Game 4 on Sunday. “They can make plays, they go to the hard areas… They have guys that can pull the trigger pretty quick. They’re high-level, elite players.”
Still, the Islanders aren’t dead yet, and it’s a chance that they continue to relish.
“Eastern Conference Finals, when you have an opportunity to pull yourself right back into this thing just like we did after being down 2-0… look, we’re still alive here,” Lee said. “There’s no sense of doubt or anything like that.”
“To get to where we want to go, it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be all roses. You’re not going to come out of these things just by wanting it. You have to go out there and do it.”
To do so, the Islanders will continue to have to “redline” their game every night, as Trotz described it, meaning pushing their collective game as much as possible while keeping their structure.
“That’s a formula that works for us, it may not work for every team in the league,” Trotz said. “We have to play hard, we have to play with detail, we have to play with a four-line mentality and a physical edge. It’s demanding.”
“We’ve gone four rounds and it’s been hard. It’s not been easy. The four teams are here earned the right to be here. They deserve to be here.”
Pulling off such a comeback will be teetering on the line of miraculous, though. Teams that take a 3-1 series lead in a conference final since they began in 1982 have advanced 34 of 35 times.
Needless to say, the odds aren’t in the Islanders’ favor.
“You have to keep leaving the dream of the miracle. Whatever you need to get it done,” Trotz said. “There’s 27 teams and 700 players that would love to be in this position.”
“We’re not going to go down lightly,” Barzal added. “We’re going to come out swinging.”