There haven't been significant lineup changes in the first four games of the first-round series between the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, but Friday night's Game 5 brings at least one and potentially two more.
None of them favor the Islanders, who have trailed in games for most of the series despite pulling off a 2-2 split so far.
The big news from Islanders camp was that Ryan Pulock, the young defenseman whose play helped turn Game 3 around, is indeed out for the rest of the series. Today the Isles officially labeled it one to two weeks.
He'll be replaced by Marek Zidlicky, a fellow righthanded shot -- a hard one at that -- who is expected to reform a pairing with Thomas Hickey. That would mix the rest of their pairings up, as the Isles had been using Calvin de Haan with Pulock and Hickey with Johnny Boychuk, deliberately against my wishes of going back to the de Haan-Hamonic and Boychuk-Leddy pairings of yore.
With the Game 4 performance being wholly uninspiring outside of players named Greiss, Tavares, Okposo or Nielsen, the coaching staff also threatened its first change up front. According to Arthur Staple of Newsday, Alan Quine and Ryan Strome were both remaining on the ice at morning skate with the the regular scratches, while Steve Bernier came off with the regulars.
If Strome sits (more likely), Bernier likely slots in his spot in the latest episode of Strome Whipping Boy, Bailey Untouchable. If that happens, heavens what a season for Strome if he's effectively replaced by a guy who was drafted twice and spent the whole year in the AHL.
If Quine sits (less likely), someone else is playing center (Strome? Frans Nielsen, who's been top-line wing for this series?).
Trochek Storm Looming
Just as the Isles have played the whole series without key contributors Anders Lee and (once upon a healthy time) Mikhail Grabovski, the Panthers have played all series without Vincent Trochek.
Unlike Grabovski and Lee, however, Trochek's return has appeared imminent. Unfortunately for the Isles, it may come tonight.
If he's healthy, the 25-goal scorer would give the Panthers excellent depth down the middle to complement the already formidable Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, whom the Panthers relied on heavily in Game 4. The only hope would be that Trochek is still rusty after a three-week rehab, which Jaromir Jagr joked could be possible, as reported by Brian Compton of nhl.com:
"The way he's played all season, he was a great player for us and probably the biggest surprise on our team.
"On the other side, don't forget he missed a lot of games. It's not easy just to … he couldn't do anything, he couldn't even practice. It's not easy to just jump and start playing again. On the other side, there's a lot of guys that [have] got to be tired, so he might look good."
Lot of guys have to be tired, which is what makes the effort in so many series so impressive. But that's the playoffs. It's high time more of the Isles lineup acts like it.
How to Watch: Islanders at Panthers Game 5
8 p.m. ET | Game 5, Eastern Conference Round 1
[Bed, Bath & Banking] Center | Sunrise, Fla.
Local: MSG+, Sun Sports | National: CNBC (U.S.), SN (Canada)
Live stream at NBC Sports Live Extra
Radio (NY): WCBS 880AM
Panthers coverage: Litter Box Cats
Frans Nielsen - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Nikolay Kulemin - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey
Shane Prince - Alan Quine* - Steve Bernier*
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Travis Hamonic
Calvin de Haan - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Marek Zidlicky**
*If Strome is the scratch
**Replaces Pulock (injury)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Reilly Smith
Jiri Hudler - Vincent Trocheck* - Teddy Purcell
Garrett Wilson - Derek MacKenzie - Logan Shaw
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Michael Matheson - Alex Petrovic
*Game time decision. The Panthers dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Game 4, though defenseman Jakub Kindl played zero minutes. Hope his family didn't stay up late to watch.