Just about everything was in the Islanders’ favor for advancing to the Stanley Cup semifinals as they hosted the Boston Bruins Wednesday night in Game 6 of their second-round series at Nassau Coliseum.
Barry Trotz’s team held a 3-2 advantage over the Bruins in the best-of-seven series, meaning a win would give them the series and move them on to a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the defending Stanley Cup champion, who beat them in the Eastern Conference Finals last September in the Edmonton bubble.
Wednesday’s game was to be played in a raucous Coliseum, where Trotz would have the last line change — and thus be able to get the on-ice matchups he wanted. And the Islanders, even without captain Anders Lee and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, were a lot less banged up than the Bruins, who were down two key defensemen and had questions about the health of their No. 1 goalie, Tuukka Rask.
The thing is, with Tampa Bay having finished off their series against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, the pressure was on the Islanders to close out the Bruins Wednesday and avoid having to go to a Game 7, which would be Friday night in Boston.
Last year, the Islanders held a 3-1 advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers in their second-round series, but lost Games 5 and 6 in overtime before eventually winning Game 7. Going to seven games, though, meant the Islanders had less than 48 hours between Game 7 and Game 1 against Tampa Bay — with a cross-Canada flight in between. They lost the series opener to the Lightning, 8-2.
“It really wasn’t fair,’’ Trotz recalled. “It wasn’t a good game to watch last year. Us going to Game 7 — and we had, if you remember, three of the games [against the Flyers] were all overtime games. And then we have to travel across the country, and then the next day we’re playing [in] Edmonton. And with the time change, and the travel, and the emotional stuff that went on, there wasn’t a lot of sleep, and we got it handed to us in Game 1.
“In Game 2 we were a much better team, and we tried to fight our way back in the series.’’
In the end, the series went six games, but not closing the Flyers out early essentially cost the Islanders Game 1. So Trotz and his team understood the importance of closing the Bruins out Wednesday.
“We’re conscious of it,’’ he said, “but the No. 1 thing is, you can’t think past the first shift today. You’ve got to be really laser-focused on, just, win your shift; win your shift; win your shift. Hopefully, win the period; win your shift, keep going. And if it happens, then you might get a little rest.
“And if it doesn’t happen, you’re gonna have to go to Boston and do it again.’’
The Bruins were already down defenseman Kevan Miller when they lost defenseman Brandon Carlo after a hard but clean check from Cal Clutterbuck in Game 3. Then, in Game 5, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy pulled Rask after the goalie allowed four goals on 16 shots in the first two periods. Afterward, Cassidy said there was an injury to Rask that played a part in his decision to replace him with rookie Jeremy Swayman.
Trotz said it didn’t matter to the Islanders whether they were going to be shooting the puck at Rask or Swayman (or ex-Islander Jaroslav Halak, for that matter).
“It’s not going to affect us a whole lot,’’ he said. “There might be some tendencies, which our goaltending department has watched the film on both their goaltenders, and . . . the info is there. And there might be just a reminder.’’