The task is straightforward for the New York Islanders: Win or go home.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning leading 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, the Islanders are in must-win territory when the teams clash Tuesday night in Edmonton.
If New York loses, its Stanley Cup playoff run will be done and dusted.
Whatever the outcome in the series, though, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said he doesn’t expect his team to go down without a fight.
“We’ve got one life left,” Trotz said. “This group has invested too much to not give their best effort on Tuesday.”
That said, the Islanders have been outclassed by the Lightning, who appear able to find another gear whenever they need it. Case in point being Sunday’s game. New York opened the scoring midway through the second period, but the Lightning responded with two goals within the next 27 seconds to take the lead and went on to claim a 4-1 victory.
Tampa Bay’s other victories this series were an 8-2 blowout in the opener and a last-minute buzzer-beater for a 2-1 win in Game 2.
“We’re here now with a chance, our backs are against the wall and we just have to go out there and play and give everything we have,” Islanders forward Brock Nelson said. “It’s going to take a little more from everybody, and we have the group in here that believes in each other to go out there and get the job done. We just have to start with one.”
The Lightning will look to ride that momentum to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance. They won it all in 2004 and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 finals.
Mustering a quick-strike comeback shows what this team is capable of achieving.
“That’s the beauty of our team this year,” said Blake Coleman, whose goal 15 seconds after New York opened the scoring cued the Sunday comeback. “You give up that goal, I don’t think there’s many guys saying, ‘Oh, (bleep).’ I think we’re confident we can come back in games, we’re confident we can hold leads. We’ve played well, and when you play well and you’re taking over games, it gives you confidence in playing in any situation.”
Tampa Bay’s two goals 12 seconds apart set a franchise record for quickest pair in the playoffs. The Lightning had established the mark of 15 seconds this year during their second-round series with the Boston Bruins.
The Lightning head into Game 5 with uncertainty regarding the status of star forward Brayden Point, who didn’t play in the final half of the third period on Sunday.
Point, who leads the Lightning with nine goals and is tied for the league lead with 25 points, was in discomfort after going to the boards with New York’s Adam Pelech. Point was also injured in Game 2 and missed the third game of the series.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t provide any update on Point, but there’s no doubt something is bothering the forward. The coach acknowledged that the club is better with Point in the lineup, even if Point isn’t at 100 percent.
“I’d go as far as to say he’s the most dangerous guy in the playoffs this year,” Coleman said. “He’s a special talent. He tilts the ice every time he’s out there. Any time you have a guy like that in your lineup, you have a better chance of winning hockey games. Huge to have a guy like that back, and I think it really elevated the rest of our (players) as well.”