Barry Trotz didn’t hesitate when asked Wednesday whether the New York Islanders or Tampa Bay Lightning were feeling more pressure heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Put it this way, we sort of look at it one game at a time,” the Islanders coach said. “We have one life left, they have two. You tell me which has more pressure.”
New York, the No. 6 seed in the East, kept its season alive when forward Jordan Eberle scored at 12: 30 of the second overtime for a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the best-of-7 series on Tuesday.
The Islanders are 2-0 when facing elimination this postseason; they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round before recovering with a 4-0 win in Game 7. But unlike that series, they won’t receive another chance if they lose Game 6.
“I don’t know if your approach changes,” New York captain Anders Lee said. “I think you still have to attack the game the same way that you would any other night. You’ve just got to try to maintain that momentum that we earned from last night and carry that into the next game.
“But similarly, we’re on our heels. I guess our backs are against the wall a little bit. We’ve got to come out flying.”
Game 5 lasted 92: 30, the fourth longest in this round since the conference finals format was adopted for the 1981-82 season, and the longest possible elimination game. But the Islanders were limited to 24 shots, the fewest in any NHL game lasting that long since 1967.
New York would like to generate more quality scoring chances in Game 6, but Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, said the lack of opportunities is somewhat expected this late in the postseason.
“At this time of year, what you find out as you go along in the [Stanley Cup Playoffs], the game is about all those commitment elements and less about the artistic part of the game. That sort of gets thrown out a little bit just because so many battles happen, there’s no space, there’s no time,” Trotz said. “It becomes a little bit less creative sometimes, just because there’s no space and you’ve [got] to manage the puck, you’ve got to will yourself, you’ve got to jump in and execute on a moment, a missed play, whatever. That’s how you win in the playoffs.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper did not provide an update on center Brayden Point, who was unfit to play for the second time in the series in Game 5. Each of the Islanders’ wins have come when Point, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in the series, was unavailable (a 5-3 win in Game 3).
Tampa Bay, the No. 2 seed, has not lost consecutive games this postseason.
“I think you could stand in each team’s court and make a case because that’s what both coaches are doing,” Cooper said. “They’re 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.’ Then you’re in our locker room saying, ‘Hey, we’re still up 3-2 and they were a lucky bounce from the game still going or us scoring.’ You can play the tennis match and volley back and forth on what you’re doing to your team, but it’s why we play the games and the players are going to decide it tomorrow night one way or the other.
“Pressure is what you make of it, so if you want to succumb to it you can, or if you want to thrive in it, you can. You’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to embrace these moments. You don’t get them that often, so enjoy them and don’t let that pressure get to you and just do your best on Thursday night and see what happens.”