"As always, subject to change" was the final note from yesterday's practice updates, and today's morning skates before Game 4 bear that out.
Yesterday Erik Condra looked close, Ryan Pulock sounded like he'd have to convince the coach he's healthy, and Ryan Strome looked like he was on the outside again. This morning's skates hint something different.
One thing that hasn't changed is Matt Carle increasingly looks like he's returning to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times -- where the size of the beat has literally dropped by 50 percent in the middle of this series -- has Carle calling himself a "gametime decision." As are we all during playoffs.
The same Times story has Condra probably not returning yet.
On the Islanders side, a twist or else a misdirection: In Newsday's pre-gamer from Arthur Staple, and in Brian Compton's nhl.com story about Carle's expected(?) return, both suggest Strome at center, Brock Nelson at first-line wing, and Alan Quine -- that wing's most recent occupant -- sitting out tonight, at least by the look of the morning skate.
Staple goes into further detail about Pulock looking like he's ready to bump Marek Zidlicky, who like Quine stayed on for extra work at the morning skate.
There is some thought that the first line and John Tavares in particular (because he's expected to do everything at all times) need a boost after the first three games. The safer answer is usually that hockey is hockey.
For his part, Tavares isn't scared:
"We've had our backs up against the wall many times in the last few years, especially this year," Tavares said. "So we know it's an important one, put the last one behind us and get ready to play."
Anyway, if Compton is right, we've seen Nelson on their wing before. We've seen Strome at center (though not nearly as much lately) before. Putting Strome with Shane Prince and Steve Bernier instead of Quine would be...a change though. You wonder if Double Overtime Hero Quine is battling a possible malady, or if this is just a case of Bernier being "experienced" and what-not.
As always, subject to change. Puck drops, nothing else matters, win win win. The Islanders need the win to make this a best-of-three and preserve their last mulligan, so...yeah, stakes high(er).
How to Watch: Islanders vs. Lightning Game 4
One thing we've learned to expect after the first three games, and after most Isles-Lightning meetings over the last few years: Goals. Lots of goals. (So yes, that mean it will be a 1-0 double-overtime marathon.)
Cal Clutterbuck scored what should've been the winner in the last one, but then...let's not relive it:
"We played well enough to win and probably deserved to win," Cal Clutterbuck said. "I think we made a mistake in the last minute of the game that we can't make. Playing against a team that's opportunistic that's kind of what happens.
For the general zeitgeist of the moment, check the latest back-and-forth email therapy from Dan and Mike. Hard to think of the future when the present is so very very immediately relevant, but that's what playoffs do to you: The whole weight of everything on you all at once.