The weight of the Islanders’ playoff history doesn’t hang too heavily on the current team. Even the 23-year streak without a series victory only includes a pair of first-round defeats for this John Tavares-led cast of Islanders, who come into Wednesday’s Game 4 with a chance to set some new postseason standards of their own.
Inside of the recent decades of playoff futility is a subset of unpleasantness: It’s been 14 years and 34 playoff games since the Isles won consecutive games in a playoff series, Games 3 and 4 of the epic 2002 first-round series against the Leafs in which the home side won all seven games.
The Islanders get to enjoy the home cooking of another raucous Barclays Center crowd on Wednesday. They can take a stranglehold on the series with the Panthers and put themselves in position to erase that long postseason victory drought that many longtime fans remember vividly more so than a group of players who were just learning to skate when David Volek was a household name on Long Island.
“That might be the hardest thing in the playoffs, to back up a win with a win,” John Tavares said. “Obviously coming off a loss you want to correct things, a determination to get back in the win column. They’re going to be a desperate team and we have to be at the same level, feed off the energy of our crowd and take advantage of this opportunity.”
The best way the Islanders can do that on Wednesday is start off stronger. The Panthers have not only scored the first goal in all three games so far, that goal has come within the first few shifts — Teddy Purcell’s goal opened the series just 1:55 into Game 1 and Reilly Smith scored 4:32 into Game 2 and 2:25 into Game 3.
“We want to get a little bit more into our game right off the bat,” Tavares said. “I don’t think it’s a recipe for success to keep giving up the first goal or have to come back down two goals. We believe in our group and you approach any situation the same. Obviously that’s an area we need to be better, especially the start of games, the start of periods.”
Jack Capuano used the last line change that the home team is afforded to try and get a better matchup against Smith’s line near the start of Game 3, putting Casey Cizikas’ line out against the Panthers’ hottest trio of Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen. It didn’t work then and Capuano adjusted as Game 3 wore on.
“He’s playing the right way,” Capuano said of Smith, who has eight points in three games, having been involved in all but two of the Panthers’ goals. “He’s using his speed to create chances and he’s been aggressive.”
But it’s the Islanders who have a chance to extend a series lead to 3-1 for the first time since 1993, when Ray Ferraro ended consecutive overtime games at Nassau Coliseum to give the Isles that 3-1 lead over the Caps, a first-round series they finished off in six games.
In a more recent series, the Islanders held a 2-1 lead after an emotional OT win and had a chance in another OT to take that coveted 3-1 series edge — that was last year against the Caps at the Coliseum.
Tavares’ stick broke and Nicklas Backstrom threaded a shot through a crowd to beat Jaroslav Halak and even a series the Islanders lost in seven games. These Islanders only know Ferraro from his television work, but they all remember last year.
“You draw off your past experiences, but you can’t worry about what happened years ago. Just focus on now,” Josh Bailey said. “We need to play desperate and try to find a way to get another win.”