The culture surrounding the New York Islanders has changed in such a drastic way since the arrival of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz three years ago that stealing Game 1 on the road against the favored Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday did little to move the meter.
That’s why the Islanders’ head coach provided the equivalency of the sarcastic gesturing of circling your pointer finger with an equally unenthusiastic exclamation of “whoop-de-doo,” with Game 2 looming on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“We didn’t do anything but win one hockey game,” Trotz said on Monday after his team’s limited optional practice less than 24 hours after their 4-3 overtime triumph over the Penguins to take a 1-0 first-round series lead.
“We went through a lot of that in the playoffs last year,” Trotz added after taking his team to the Eastern Conference Final in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles last season. “We have a lot of returning players. We recognize that you take each game as a singular event and you move on — good bad or indifferent. You try to get better. Today was about getting our bodies right, our minds in the right place.”
That’s why Sunday afternoon’s thrilling upset— which saw the Islanders overturn a 2-1 deficit, yield the tying goal with three minutes left in regulation, and feature the newly-acquired, recently-struggling Kyle Palmieri score his second tally of the game in overtime for the winner — is being treated as business as usual for a club that brings a workman-like attitude to all facets of a season.
“It’s just important in any series to focus on one game at a time,” veteran forward Matt Martins aid. “It’s a race to four [wins] and we did a good job picking up the first game. Our next job is to make it a 2-0 series. We know it’s going to be tough, they’re a good hockey team… we have to be at our best.”
The Islanders are expecting a strong push from the Penguins, who don’t want to fall into a 2-0 hole as they did two years ago against New York. They could be receiving an added boost in the form of star winger Evgeni Malkin — who sat Game 1 with an injury. His status for Game 2 is questionable.
“He’s a fantastic player. Such a talent, a gamechanger,” Trotz said. “Will it do anything for us? No. We play them the same way. Our concept is a very team concept and it won’t really change much. Just know that he has certain unique qualities as a player that will make them better.
“They’re going to make their adjustments, we’re going to try and anticipate those adjustments… this is where the chess match comes in a little bit.”
On the Islanders’ injury front, Trotz did not disclose much about injured starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who missed Game 1, other than that he skated with the team on Monday. Rookie Ilya Sorokin put on a dazzling display in Game 1, making 39 saves on 42 shots to pick up the win — but Varlamov is the No. 1, at least for this year as Sorokin continues to adapt to life in the NHL after coming over from Russia last summer.
“We’ll see where Varly is in terms of health. He’s very close,” Trotz said. “I trust both our goalies That’s the great thing about having Ilya. We knew that process would be slower, just the transition from coming over from the KHL but at the same time, his first start [of the regular season against the Rangers] was by surprise and it didn’t go so well. I don’t know if it set him back, but it got us taking a very cautious approach with him knowing his ability is tremendous. Whoever we put in the net, we feel comfortable with it and we don’t make any excuses.”