The New York Islanders rightly felt good about their Game 3 performance, what with a quick start and a big comeback book-ending a few letdowns that allowed the Penguins to neutralize the early surge from the Coliseum crowd.
After outplaying the Penguins at 5-on-5 again, the Isles correctly believe they need to continue what worked while also improving their special teams performance.
But another thing the Isles must prepare for is that the Penguins have not played their best, and they know they need to step up their game. Last night the Los Angeles Kings appeared to "find another gear," in the words of St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, in the third period of Game 4 in that series. "That's what champions do."
The Penguins are far from defending champions -- their Cup is nearly a third of a DiPietro contract ago -- but they do have several core members and experienced deadline additions who can channel the focus and energy needed to raise one's level in the playoffs.
Basically, if there is another lesson the young Islanders are due in this spring's Playoffs 101 crash course, it's that the team you see on one night may not be the same team you see the next night.
For a variety reasons -- some within their control, some not -- the impressive performance in Game 3 did not garner a win. And yet many things from that game worked in their favor, including getting the early goals and seeing their third-period efforts rewarded with the two-goal comeback.
It is appropriate for them to not feel down on themselves because of the loss. It is also necessary for them to realize they'll need that and more to attain a win. And win they must, because they can only afford one more loss, preferably not on home ice.
Speaking of home ice, Penguins coach and former Isles assistant Dan Bylsma on the Coliseum:
"I can't say we handled it well. We got off to two goals against and led them feed off some speed and energy. From the time we got here, the atmosphere in the building, our players were really excited about the atmosphere here. It was pretty crazy. They chanted from before warm-ups, during warm-ups, during the game. Our guys were really excited about playing in front of that type of atmosphere. That's what it's all about."
Bylsma allowed himself to smile while recalling Sunday's scene. It was easier because his team erased the early hole and led 3-2 before the first period was over. Even blowing a two-goal lead of their own in the third period didn't seem so bad once Crosby set up Chris Kunitz for the Penguins' third power-play goal of the game in overtime.
"It's playoff hockey, and we haven't been in this building for playoff games before," Bylsma said. "It was an awesome crowd. They were great and were energized right from the start..."
Isles fans, you don't owe it to the team or to anyone but yourselves, and the legends who made the Coliseum great, to do it again tonight.
To warm up for the big game tonight, we won't repeat links from yesterday's mid-day update, but here are a few more:
- A great read on the feeling of playoff hockey at the Coliseum again.
- As mentioned yesterday, Kyle Okposo's play made him the popular get for media yesterday, so you'll see many of the same quotes in write-ups on him, including this from the Post-Gazette on the "Fiery Okposo" and this from the Daily News and this from NHL.com: Kyle Okposo steps up
- More from NHL.com: | Penguins' special teams on a roll | Iginla glad to be just another Penguin |
- Newsday: Follow-up on those threatened by scratches after Game 1 | Tavares won't be lured into much talk about Crosby getting calls |
- Post: In its simplest terms, the Isles believe | Also on the whole "get involved or be scratched" thing
- Toward the future: Musing on what it means for the black ace callups from Bridgeport
- At PensBurgh, Islanders usage charts that probably won't surprise you if you've been following the team this year
- Okay, one repeat from yesterday, because it is really good: Empty Netters (Post-Gazette blog) with Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. More in the edited article here.
- The Penguins miss Brooks Orpik. (Will he or James Neal return tonight?)
- They're also worried about turnovers and the Islanders transition game.
In a strange P-G column ("Now don't call that number (you maniacs) because it's not the real number") calling the Isles pests (in a good way), here's a little more from Bylsma:
"We want to prevent a situation where we're just, for want of a better term, 'punting' the puck away," Bylsma said after an optional practice inside the old palace of sticky floors and dark passages. "We're giving up possession and then we're allowing them to do what they do, which is to get into their transition game, which they've done well."
On that note, one of Bylsma's pleas after the Penguins survived Game 3 was that "[we have to realize] there are many ways to win playoff games." While you might read that as going out in OT and drawing a Vlade Divac-style foul, it also means you can adjust to the strengths and exploit the soft spots of the opponent you're facing.
Though they're up in the series 2-1, we'll be looking to see what the Penguins do to adjust tonight.