Islanders know too well the painful cost of a long series

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It is not quite the same as last year because last year was, well, it was 2020, there were twin Canadian bubbles and the second round of the playoffs seeped into the first week of September.

But it is close enough.

Because just as the Islanders were one victory away from advancing to the Stanley Cup semifinals against Tampa Bay entering Game 6 of the second round against Boston at the Coliseum on Thursday, they were in a similar situation last year.

They were one victory away from the conference finals against the Lightning entering Game 5 of the second round against Philadelphia under the bubble in Toronto a year ago.

And lost in overtime.

So they were still one victory away, two nights from clinching, entering Game 6 against the Flyers.

And lost in double overtime.

So they were forced into a Game 7 two nights after that against Philadelphia, which they won 4-0 behind, yes, Thomas Greiss on Sept. 5.

And as their reward for winning that contest, the team traveled across Canada to the Edmonton bubble the following day, before facing Tampa Bay the next night on Sept. 7.

The Lightning, who had taken out the Bruins in five games in their second-round matchup, had been off since Aug. 31 and had taken the flight from Toronto to Edmonton a day earlier than the Islanders.

They were rested.

And won Game 1, 8-2, to get a jump in the series the Islanders were forced to chase until they were ultimately eliminated in overtime in Game 6 by the eventual Cup champions.

Islanders Bruins NHL playoffs
Barry Trotz coaches the Islanders against the Bruins.
Getty Images

So, though it is all about focusing on the task at hand, the lesson the Islanders should have learned last year is that it is never beneficial to play an extra game (or two) in the playoffs.

While a once-again rested Lightning team, following its Game 5 second-round clinching over the Candy Canes on Tuesday, is waiting at home, where the first two games of the semis will be contested.

Should have learned that Tampa Bay needs no extra advantage, on top of the one they gained by working LTI cap regulations well enough to have taken the ice for their Game 5 victory over Carolina with a 20-man lineup nearly $8 million over the cap at $89,329,116.

But enough (for now) about Nikita Kucherov.

And back to the Islanders’ quest to end this in a timely fashion. By the way, I have always believed the Rangers lost their best chance at winning the Cup in 2012 when they were forced into a seven-game, second-round series by Washington after losing Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead and then the potential clinching Game 6. Exhausted after playing 14 games in the opening two rounds, the Blueshirts were upset by the more rested Devils in the conference finals.

“It probably is,” Trotz said when asked if the experience last year was in the team’s consciousness. “We looked at it and look at how TV sort of dictates the schedule and obviously if you go to a Game 7…

“It really wasn’t fair, it wasn’t a good game to watch last year, us going to Game 7, with three of the games before that going to overtime, then we had to fly across the country and the next day we were playing in Edmonton. And with the time change and travel and emotional stuff that went on there wasn’t a lot of sleep and we got it handed to us.

“So it is important.”

A year ago, the Islanders lost four potential clinchers, needing a second try to close out Florida in the qualifying round and then Washington in the first round. The team did, however, eliminate the Penguins on the first shot this season in Game 6 at the Coliseum on May 26.

Islanders NHL playoffs
The Lightning celebrate after defeating the Islanders in Game 6 of the 2020 Eastern Conference final.
NHLI via Getty Images

“You have to know the moment you’re in and embrace it,” said Andy Greene. “You know it’s a fun game to be playing in. It’s why we work and train so hard throughout the whole year to be put in these situations and then be ready for them and go from there.

“You keep preparing the way you do and make sure to be ready from the start.”

Rest would be important. Time to prepare for Tampa Bay would be important. But the Islanders could not afford to get ahead of themselves without the risk of being left behind.

“We’re conscious of it but the No. 1 thing is you can’t think past the first shift tonight,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to be laser-focused on, ‘Win your shift, win your shift,’ hopefully win the period and keep going.

“If it happens, you might get a little rest. If it doesn’t happen you’re going to have to go to Boston and hopefully do it again.”

The Islanders do not want to go back to Boston.

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