Take 2 — once again — for the Islanders.
Thursday night provides a second opportunity for the team now with a 3-2 series lead to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers and punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993.
They came tantalizingly close on Tuesday night, overcoming a 3-1 third-period deficit to force overtime before Scott Laughton kept the Flyers’ season alive.
Now urgency to close out the Flyers in Game 6 ramps up that much more as a Philadelphia team filled with momentum is eyeing a rather improbable comeback.
They might have to do so without Mathew Barzal, who head coach Barry Trotz said on Thursday afternoon that he’ll be a game-time decision. He’s ready for either scenario regarding his first-line center.
“You don’t want to make a last-minute decision. You want to be prepared. Plan B and Plan A are in place so we’re ready,” Trotz said. “We’ve talked to a couple players. I said that there’s a possibility they may be in. So I’m trying to keep all my options open.”
Regardless of his lineup, Trotz has kept his team’s sights fixated within their ranks to try and finish the job ahead of puck drop at 7 p.m. ET.
“Same mentality we have. We want to go out there and make sure we get the job done tonight,” forward Anthony Beauvillier said. “Everyone’s well-rested and we’re ready to go tonight.”
The hope from the Islanders’ head coach is that they’ll be able to draw on their last two series — which saw them drop their first chances at eliminating the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals — as ways to close out the Flyers.
“We’ve closed two series out already. You grow every experience and you learn from it,” Trotz said. “As you go along, the teams are harder and harder, they’re better teams. Hopefully, you can understand, draw from the last one, how hard it was… this team is a really good hockey team.”
But Game 6 is coming off a pair of games in which Trotz was unimpressed with his team. He called their Game 4 win their worst performance of the postseason before admitting that “we need a little bit more,” after the Game 5 loss.
“We have to start raising our level to the level that’s needed to close out a team,” Trotz said. “You need your best game. That’s how you close out a series. You leave your best game out there, you want to do that every game, but you need that best game. Nothing is ever given in this game. You have to go out and earn it.”
Another loss raises the pressure cooker up that much more for a potential Game 7, but a win makes this an Islanders team that will go where it hasn’t gone in over two decades.
“It’s something we’ve been working toward. We know all our fans and everyone are watching and excited,” forward Josh Bailey said. “We want to give them something to cheer about.”