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Waiting is the hardest part for red-hot Isles

Team in holding pattern following historic first-round sweep

April 18, 2019 JT Torenli
The Islanders celebrated their first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, but might have to take upwards of a week-and-half off before hitting the ice again against a yet-to-be-determined second-round opponent. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The New York Islanders still don’t know whether they will open their second-round playoff series here in Downtown Brooklyn or in our nation’s capital.

And they might not find out for at least another week.

That’s the reward, or potential burden, for Islanders team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s team following a startling turnaround season that saw New York amass 103 points before an even more shocking first-round sweep of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“There’s two schools of thought [regarding long layoffs between playoff series],” Lamoriello told WFAN, less than 24 hours after the Isles had sent the Penguins packing with a 3-1 Game 4 victory in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

“We’ll handle [the time off] the best way we can,” he added. “The players will get a couple of days off, which is much-needed.”

While they were scheduled to get back to practice Thursday morning, the Isles, fresh off their first playoff sweep since 1983, can’t even begin preparing for a specific opponent until the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes complete their first-round series.

The Capitals held a 2-1 series lead heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 in Carolina.

If Washington winds up winning the next two games, the Isles could be back in action in D.C., as early as Tuesday night as Washington would have home-ice advantage based on finishing a single point ahead of New York in the Metropolitan Division standings.

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But if the series drags on past this weekend, the Isles may not lace up their skates again until next Friday, which would be a week-and-a-half layoff, signifying New York’s longest break of the campaign.

If the Hurricanes knock off the reigning champs, be it in six or seven games, the Isles would then host Game 1 here at Downtown’s Barclays Center, and have home ice for the rest of the postseason because they would have the most points of any remaining playoff team.

Winners of six in a row dating back to the regular season and victorious in 10 of their last 12 games overall, the Isles will likely need to reload and refocus before they can continue what they hope will be an extended postseason run.

But the break will provide some much-needed time for veterans Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk to recover from undisclosed injuries which forced both to leave the ice during the second period of Tuesday’s series-clinching win in Pittsburgh.

Then again, this playoff pause could cool off the red-hot sticks of reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal, who amassed five assists vs. the Penguins, and Jordan Eberle, whose six points, including four goals, spearheaded New York’s sweep.

Lamoriello, the owner of three Stanley Cup rings and five Eastern Conference titles via his Hall of Fame tenure as GM in New Jersey, remains adamant that the layoff can only be burdensome to the Isles if they allow it to be.

“We’re not going to allow any change to get in the way of what we’re doing at this point,” he noted.

The concourse at Downtown’s Barclays Center will be re-open for hockey business next week when the Islanders continue their playoff run against either the Carolina Hurricanes or defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
The concourse at Downtown’s Barclays Center will be re-open for hockey business next week when the Islanders continue their playoff run against either the Carolina Hurricanes or defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. AP Photo/Kevin Hagen

The Isles will also have to deal with a switch in venues next week as their remaining home playoff games will be played on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues after they beat the Penguins twice at the renovated Nassau Coliseum during the first round.

New York finished 12-7-2 at NYCB Live, a.k.a., the Coliseum, during the regular season and went 12-7-1 at Barclays, where it has not played since Feb. 16.

Again, Lamoriello was quick to ward off any notion that his team would be affected by the change in locale.

“The only way [switching arenas] becomes a negative is [if] you think it’s a negative or there are reasons for it to be,” he said in the radio interview.

“We have no reason for it to be negative. We played half a season [at Barclays]. It’ll be our home arena. We look forward to our fans, who have just been tremendous, as far as what they brought. We have not doubt they will be the same in Brooklyn.”

Though no one was bold enough to predict that the Isles would eliminate the Penguins, winners of the two of the previous three Stanley Cups, much less sweep them in four, the team remains steadfast in its belief that it can play with, or beat, any opponent.

“A lot of the guys said right away this team is going to go far,” New York netminder Robin Lehner said after yielding just four even-strength goals during the series.

“I think that just grew during the season when our system started to gel, and we started playing together… We have a good team and we’ve been overlooked a little bit.”

They won’t be overlooked any longer.

After humbling a perennial championship contender without a single loss, either the Capitals or Hurricanes will be very conscious of just how tough this Islander team can be, especially on the defensive end, where New York yielded the least goals in the league this season.

But the Isles will be ready for any challenge that awaits them in the second round, even if it’s the Washington team that first-year Isles head coach Barry Trotz guided to its first-ever Stanley Cup crown a season ago.

“[Beating the Penguins] is just one of our goals for heading towards that ultimate goal,” said Isles veteran forward Matt Martin.

“Making the playoffs was one. Win the first round was one. Win the second round, but ultimately you want to go home with the Cup. We’re happy with the result and the way we are playing, but there’s a long way to go.”

And a long time to wait before they get back to playing hockey again.

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