The Islanders didn’t just stave off elimination Tuesday night. They did so in dramatic fashion.
Now, they will try to ride those emotions to being the latest team to come from behind against the Lightning in an Eastern Conference final.
“I think you just gotta try to maintain that momentum that we earned from [Tuesday] night and carry that into the next game,” captain Anders Lee said Wednesday, a day after the Islanders’ 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 5. “When you have a win like that, it definitely is easier to carry over.”
The Lightning still own the 3-2 advantage in the series, but recent history is not on their side. They held the same lead in the same round in both 2016 and 2018 before letting both series and trips to the Stanley Cup final slip away.
It was Barry Trotz’s Capitals who came back to beat the Lightning in the 2018 conference final, but the Islanders coach indicated the greater pressure still lies with his team.
“We have one life left. They have two,” Trotz said. “So I don’t know, you tell me which [team] has more pressure.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said an argument could be made for either side facing more pressure, but insisted he is “at peace” with his team and where it currently stands — though he’d certainly have to feel more comfortable if Brayden Point is able to return after missing Game 5 with an injury.
Still, Cooper said he believes the Lightning played well enough to win Tuesday night and insisted he wouldn’t ride the highs and lows like he might have in the past in the same situation.
“[The Islanders] are probably sitting there saying, ‘Hey, we just won in overtime, we’ve got them thinking, and the ball’s in our court, and let’s just keep pushing,’ ” Cooper said. “And then you’re in our locker room saying, ‘Hey, we’re still up 3-2, and they were a lucky bounce away from the game still being going or us scoring.’ The players are going to decide it [Thursday] night one way or the other.”
In the first three rounds of the postseason, it was the Islanders who had missed out on their first shot at closing out a series, including the last round in which they blew a 3-1 lead over the Flyers and had to win it in seven games. Now, they’re on the other side, hoping their strong showing in Game 5 was more than just a one-game save.
“You still have to attack the game the same way that you would any other night,” Lee said. “We’re on our heels, or I guess our backs are against the wall a little bit, and we gotta come out flying.”
Jordan Eberle won Game 5 on a two-on-one in double overtime, but before that, the Islanders had turned in a stout defensive performance. They blocked 32 shots and remained committed to winning it the hard and gritty way — the same kind of effort it will take twice more for the Islanders to have a chance at completing the comeback.
“At this time of year, what you find out as you go along in the playoffs [is] the game is about all those commitment elements and less about the artistic part of the game,” Trotz said. “That sort of gets thrown out a little bit. Just because so many battles happen, there’s no space, there’s no time. It becomes a little bit less creative sometimes just because there’s no space. … You gotta manage the puck, you gotta will yourself, you gotta jump and execute on a moment, a missed play, whatever. That’s how you win in the playoffs.”