With their all-important split in Tampa Bay against the defending-champion Lightning firmly in their back pockets, the New York Islanders return home to Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 of their Stanley Cup semifinals where they look to erase the sour taste left in their mouth from a 4-2 Game 2 loss on Tuesday night.
The Lightning threw everything they had at Barry Trotz’s men to even the series, including extracurricular shenanigans after the whistle while exhibiting the occasional flair for the dramatics in an attempt to draw penalties — all while bad blood continued to boil between the two teams.
It’s an understandable strategy for a Lightning team that is loaded with playmakers to break down a resolute Islanders team that limited Tampa to just a single goal in Game 1. But the testing of the integrity of the game is something that hasn’t necessarily sat well with Trotz, going as far as saying after Game 2 that they were “taking some liberties” on his Islanders.
He expanded on that thought process Wednesday afternoon as the Islanders plan for their return home.
“We’re a team that, let’s call it what it is — Tampa has a very good power play and we don’t want to spend any time in the penalty box,” Trotz said. “Just play it straight up.
“When our guys go down, they hear it from me… that’s not the right way to play. We don’t want to be in the box. Referees have a tough enough job, so just play it straight up. Our guys took extra shots because [the Lightning] knew we weren’t going to react to it.”
Trotz’s comments have caught the eyes of some throughout the postseason, most notably in the second round against the Boston Bruins when he called out star center Patrice Bergeron for his strategy in the face-off circle.
Whether it’s gamesmanship or trying to get in the ear of the officials, Trotz and his Islanders will look to avoid the trend set in the past two rounds of dropping Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum after getting a split on the road.
Thursday night will see the Coliseum host a Stanley Cup semifinal game for the first time since 1993 where barrier-shattering levels of noise from a rabid fan base will yet again provide a brilliant backdrop.
“We just have to focus, it’s not going to change for us,” Trotz said. “We have to focus on the next shift at 8 o’clock or 8:20, whenever the game starts tomorrow night. There’s no magic formula to do that. We’ve approached every game the same way, just a little bit of happenstance.
“We dug in, we understand the importance of our home ice, our building. They’re a team that’s going to come and we have to respond. We lost a game last night and now it’s our turn to respond.”