‘It might be your last shift’: Islanders talk intricacies of desperation in hopes of forcing Game 7 vs. Hurricanes

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Islanders Hurricanes desperation
New York Islanders’ Scott Mayfield (24) tries to gather in the puck next to goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) with Cal Clutterbuck (15) and Carolina Hurricanes’ Stefan Noesen (23) and Sebastian Aho (20) nearby during the second period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)


EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The word “desperate” or the concept of desperation has been utilized plenty by the Islanders this season, and understandably so.

They’ve had their proverbial backs to the wall for the better part of the last three months — first clawing their way into a Wild Card spot following an abysmal January and now, trying to become the fifth team in franchise history to force a Game 7 after trailing in a playoff series by 3-1 or worse. 

Earlier this, defenseman Ryan Pulock admitted that the Islanders’ play hits a different level when there is that feeling of desperation. Center Brock Nelson added that playing desperate is “freeing yourself up a bit and just trying to play fast and crisp,” before adding the kicker that “it sounds easy, but it’s not always going to be clean.”

But simply saying that one is playing desperate and actually explaining the intricacies of doing so are entirely different — and one that provided a moment of pause for some Islanders.

“It’s a hard feeling to get,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “During the season, you’re playing the next day. It doesn’t really matter. You’re trying to put that in your mind as much as you can, but it’s hard to replicate. When you get to the playoffs, like our last game, in your mind, you feel it.”

Pageau Islanders Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) jumps up to block a shot of the New York Islanders with Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) close by during the third period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

It’s what fueled the Islanders in Game 5 down in Raleigh, NC on Wednesday night against the Hurricanes, gutting out a 3-2 victory to cut their series deficit to 3-2 and set up another win-or-go-home matchup on Friday night (7 p.m. ET) at UBS Arena.

“You need that urgency that it might be your last shift, it might be your last shot, it might be your last opportunity to win a face-off, to finish a hit,” Pageau began. “To do something for the teammate that’s sitting beside you in the room. That’s when you feel that real feeling of desperation.

“It’s a weird feeling to explain, but you definitely feel something and that little something is what brings the best out of you and I think for us, that last game we had it.”

While this forum and writer lacks the educational and technical brevity to dissect just what makes a hockey player click under such duress (he went to school for words, not science), star forward Bo Horvat equated it to the most famous of acute stress responses. 

“It’s do or die. It’s fight or flight where if you lose, you go home,” Horvat said. “We definitely don’t want that to happen and we have to continue to keep playing like that for the rest of the series. This is it. If you lose one game, you go home. It brings the best out in people and brings the best out of the guys in the room.”

But what does a hockey player actually experience when he gets this feeling? After all, this is exactly what will be helping to motivate the Islanders trying to stay alive on Friday night and, if necessary, Sunday in Game 7 back in Raleigh.

Bo Horvat Islanders
FILE – New York Islanders’ Bo Horvat watches a replay during the third period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., April 17, 2023. There are a handful of big-name stars around the NHL who have been invisible or close to it in the first week of the playoffs. Horvat was held without a point in the Islanders’ series against Carolina before a goal in garbage time of Game 4 when the Hurricanes took a 3-1 lead. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

“It’s tough to explain until you’re in that situation,” Horvat said. ” You’re not overthinking. You just go and play. That’s a big thing in this game where a lot of it is confidence. Some of it is that you overthink things and you try to make those perfect plays. But at the end of the day, you know it’s not going to be pretty.”

With it comes an opportunity to quiet the mind, which at times has provided some trouble for an Islanders team that still has yet to figure out its power play, which has gone 1-for-15 this series.

“I think at times we do maybe overcomplicate it a little bit, just in our minds, not our game,” Horvat said. “We may overthink things but at the end of the day, we always seem to buckle down when the time’s right and get the job done.”

Now is not the right time. It’s the only time.

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