Talk about toss-ups, what can be more even than the Islanders-Panthers tournament tied at two games apiece, as the teams head to the Sunshine State with a winner being anybody’s guess right now.
Not that Sunrise is the worst place in the world for Jack Capuano‘s skaters after exiting Brooklyn Wednesday night on the wrong end of a 2-1 decision.
After all, Barclays and the Panthers BB&T – almost sounds like bacon, tomato on toast – home have more than the word “Center” in common. Each team has split wins on each other’s home ice.
But with the series getting even more serious, I’m hard-pressed to figure which club should be favored.
Then again, with two out of a possible three at home, one may give an advantage to Gerard Gallant’s speedy sextet, especially based on their possession dominance on Wednesday night during Game 4 on Flatbush Avenue ice.
“You won’t win many games when you only score one goal,” said Isles coach Jack Capuano. “We didn’t have enough secondary scoring.”
Make that tertiary and throw in the fourth line as well.
If the Brooklynites are to make any sort of a positive impression Friday night in Sunrise, they will have to ice a revived unit of Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, which particularly lacked their usual pizazz and puck control during Game 4.
There’s more to beating the persistent, pushy Panthers than that because Florida’s confidence level right now is stratospheric.
“They won the Atlantic Division for a reason,” says John Tavares, who scored the Isles goal and continues to carry the offense; as much as one man can. “We need to make it tougher on them.”
One suggestion would be to come out like Gangbusters in the first period and, for a change, assert infinitely better puck control than we’ve seen over the first four games of the series.
Capuano minced no words when he recounted in his post game analysis of Game 4 that his club responded to the cheering, sellout Barclays crowd with a first period “that was probably our worst of the year.”
Still, Thomas Greiss – playing solid goal – kept his club in the game right through the middle of the third period when defenseman Alex Petrovic beat him with a wrister.
If there’s to be any lesson correction to be made by Cappy’s crew, it was evident in the seconds preceding the Cats winning goal.
The home club could not successfully clear the puck from scrums along the boards – typical of the series – and that was a function of enemy strategy.
“Our game plan is about forechecking,” notes Florida coach Gallant. “We had 20 guys desperate to play a good hockey game and the desperation was there from the start.”
On the Isles side, both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy must add more offense from the back line, but that’s not the end of The Maven’s prescription for victory.
Here are my six points for the Brooklynites to re-take the series lead:
1. Come out hungrier.
2. In the Isles zone, go after the Florida skaters more persistently and vigorously.
3. Stop making soft plays.
4. Be more physical.
5. Win more puck battles especially along the boards. Exhibit ‘A’ – the Wednesday game-winner which was rooted in a lost board battle.
6. Figure out how to get through the neutral zone.
As they say, “Turnabout is fair play.”
The Isles won in Florida before, and they can do it again. But they have to up the energy and get even strength goals.
“We can play better,” concludes Game 3 hero Thomas Hickey.
Yes, sir, and now is the time to do so.