EAST MEADOW — Mathew Barzal admitted that under normal circumstances, it would take eight or nine games for a player who missed two months of playing time due to injury.
But this is the playoffs.
“I have to speed that process up a little bit,” Barzal said prior to Game 3 of the Islanders’ first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. “I have to try and not worry about the time that I had off and just jump right in headfirst into a playoff series.”
The Islanders’ playmaking forward missed the final 24 games of the regular season after suffering a lower-body injury during a Feb. 18 game against the Boston Bruins — making his return in Game 1 at PNC Arena down in Raleigh, NC.
After being held off the scoresheet in the 2-1 loss, Barzal scored his first goal since Feb. 9 during Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss when his wrister snuck under the glove of Hurricanes netminder Antti Raanta with 20.3 seconds remaining in the second period to tie the game at two apiece.
“Last game was a good step,” Barzal said. “Hopefully tonight I feel a little better.”
It’s difficult enough to re-acclimate to the speed of the NHL, but to do so under the heightened fervor that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs against a Carolina Hurricanes team whose M.O. is speed and aggression is an entirely different challenge.
“I wish I could say that I could simulate NHL game speed in practice,” Barzal said. “I think if you ask any guy after two months if, when they come back, it takes some time.”
But not everyone carries the kind of talismanic skillset that can help expedite the process — which Barzal certainly suggests is happening.
“I’m close,” he said. “I’m right there to feeling back to normal.”