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Advanced Playoff Studies: Dirty isn't enough if the Islanders plan to keep the Coliseum open

A second chance to make a first impression.

Keeping the man down.
Keeping the man down.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I don't want to talk about Game 6 because I'm afraid if I talk about Game 6 it means Game 6 is getting closer and the end of Game 6 is getting closer and then I'll have to contemplate the possible end to the Islanders run at Nassau Coliseum and, subsequently, my own mortality.

So instead, I want to talk about Game 5, starting with the day before it. After their OT loss in Game 4, the Islanders were asked approximately 17 zillion questions about Tom Wilson and his hit that knocked out Lubomir Visnovsky. Within a lot of potent quotables were some sound words about what really was on the line with the series tied.

"You just have to understand what's at stake," Martin said. "It's not just a regular-season game here. It's the playoffs, and the most important thing is winning. You want to be physical, but you need to be disciplined.

"There's gonna be plenty of opportunity to finish checks on them and take shots at their players also, but we don't want to go to the penalty box every two seconds."

Don't be stupid. Got it.

"It becomes a two-out-of-three series now and we've got to go to Washington and try to win a hockey game," [Capuano] said.

Yes, that's a good idea.

Even Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, a guy who normally wouldn't piss on an Islander if the player was wearing a Leafs jersey that was on fire, believed they wouldn't let vengeance cloud their judgement

The Islanders are smart enough to know they have to move on. Both teams have a game to win, a game that could end up being pivotal to how this series turns out. Should the Islanders stick to hockey and win on the road, that will be vindication enough for now.

And then Game 5 happened. And the Islanders forgot to take their own advice.

About six minutes in, Anders Lee engaged Wilson in a gallant but ill-advised fight to avenge his fallen teammate. About a minute after that, the Islanders took a 1-0 lead on a Josh Bailey goal and for a brief moment in time, all of the narratives seemed to align.

Then the Caps tied it before the end of the first. Although they technically had the better of possession for the second period, the Islanders didn't seem to mount much of an attack and the Caps took their lead halfway through. Entering the third period only down 2-1, there was little reason to believe the Islanders would end up getting blown out.

Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck [got] tossed for comically trying to "fight back" against an opponent that simply laughed at them and kept scoring goals.

Then a penalty was killed, another Caps goal was scored and another Islanders defenseman went down when Calvin deHaan took a high borderline hit from Troy Brouwer. From that moment, the Caps asserted themselves physically and mentally and the Islanders got visibly rattled, culminating in Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck getting tossed for comically trying to "fight back" against an opponent that simply laughed at them and kept scoring goals. Oh, and Casey Cizikas tried to give Tom Wilson an unscheduled vasectomy.

The worst aspect of the Game 5 rout wasn't the loss but the way the Islanders unraveled in the third period. It was exactly what the Capitals were hoping would happen. And the Islanders obliged like it was a montage from a movie set to music.


The lessons the Islanders are learning now are ones teams like the Capitals have taken years to understand: the playoffs aren't only about intimidation. They're about shrugging off your opponents and constantly asserting and reasserting yourselves in the face of that opposition by continuing to find ways to score regardless of what they throw at you (although our friends at Japers Rink are quick to point out that the Caps have a history of forgetting this themselves)

You can forget getting an inch from the other team, obviously. Were the hits on Visnovsky and deHaan the result of premeditated targeting of smaller skilled players? The Caps sure as hell aren't going to say so, even if Barry Trotz looks like remarkably like a Dick Tracy villain.

You can also forget getting a break from the refs. Both teams can argue they're been screwed by the zebras this series. Just off the top of my head, in Game 5 alone, Cizikas' spear on Wilson went uncalled, as did John Tavares' hand pass that led to Bailey's goal. Brouwer's hit on deHaan wasn't punished, but back in Game 4, the Caps got away with having too many on the ice in a call so obvious, Butch Goring practically had an aneurysm talking about it on the broadcast.

Brooks Laich may have been talking about Wilson's hit as a "good penalty to take," but when your opponent's power play remains stagnant and awful, every penalty is a good one to take. The Islanders are 0-for-12 with the man advantage this series and should probably just decline any further penalties because it's more of a psychological hindrance at this point (although it deserves to be said that their penalty killing has been very good).

What the Islanders need to do is forget these worries. Forget the trash talk, the uncalled infractions, the waiting for the perfect PP point shot. Forget this shit and bring the barrage of shots and high-tempo possession play they were known to do during the regular season. And they need to do it no matter how hard the Caps try to stop them and no matter who replaces Visnovsky and deHaan.

They had a chance to do that on Thursday at Verizon Center and blew it. Let's hope it's a lesson learned.

Because if they blow it again, their season and their legendary home both will come to an abrupt and disappointing end. And a summer of nothing but worries begins.