Another week, another closeout game sits before the New York Islanders.
It’s a new tradition that’s been sparse over the past 30 years before the Barry Trotz era.
The Islanders enter Game 4 of their First Round series against the Washington Capitals with a chance to sweep the best-of-seven series, thus punching their ticket to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Just 10 days after a hard-fought closeout triumph to eliminate the Florida Panthers in four games during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Coaches and players alike have made it known just how difficult it is to eliminate a team out of the postseason — something that was touched on during the Florida series and is once again cropping up before puck drop on Tuesday night.
“Obviously trying to close a team out, it’s one of the toughest things,” center Brock Nelson said. “They’re going to come hard. We have to raise our level to finish the job.”
“The work isn’t done yet.”
Suddenly it’s familiar territory for a team that had one just a single playoff series from 1994-2015 — but that’s what happens when competence is installed in the front office and behind the bench.
The Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round last season as the favored side, but they aren’t banking on that to help them usher the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Washington out of the playoffs.
“Last year was last year. I don’t know if it’s going to help, but I know it’s not going to hurt,” Trotz said. “We’re just focused on ourselves mostly. With our leadership group, we’ve kept a pretty focused group and we understand what’s at stake and we don’t look too far ahead.”
Just in front of them is a No. 3 Capitals team that was originally favored by many in the series, but have not found a way to break down the staunch Islanders, who have held them to just two even-strength goals.
Their frustration is palpable, and desperation will make them all the more dangerous.
“Obviously, when we win the game, they are getting frustrated,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “That’s just the way we want to play. Obviously, we know they’re going to come with a lot of frustration, so we’ll need a lot of urgency in our game.”
“We have to be ready to go and match their desperation,” Nelson added. “They’re playing like there’s no tomorrow because if they lose, they’re done.”
One of the biggest things that have been stressed by the Islanders in recent days was their start to these games. After taking a while to settle into the flow of Games 1 and 2, the Islanders flew out to an impressive start in Game 3, nabbing a first-period lead rather than playing from behind as they did in the previous games.
That message continues to be a strong one heading into Game 4.
“Getting off to a better start was better for us last game,” Nelson said. “I think that’ll be just as important if not one of the biggest things.”
Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday night from the Toronto bubble.