Fresh off a split of the opening two games in Buffalo of the first-round playoff series against the Sabres, the underdog Islanders returned to their home practice rink Sunday and tried to figure out how to take control of the best-of-seven matchup.
While rain poured down and the wind whipped on Long Island, coach Ted Nolan tried to diffuse a potential storm in his locker room before Monday night’s Game 3. All seems right with the eighth-seeded Islanders, except Yashin saw little action in the final two periods of the win and played 10 shifts for 7:07 of ice time overall – both team lows and all with the teams at even strength.
“Whatever I get, I will give my best,” said Yashin, who has one shot – a Game 2 attempt in the third period – in the series, and was relegated to fourth-line status. “It’s most important for the team to get a win. We did a great job like a team and Ricky played unbelievable. It’s the reason why we won.”
“I’m not thinking individual role. It’s really like a team effort.”
DiPietro displayed his top form by making 32 saves in Saturday night’s 3-2 victory, his first game back after a three-week layoff following the second of two concussions in a 12-day span.
That was the good, but Yashin’s banishment certainly raised eyebrows.
It is not Yashin’s first benching of the season, but Nolan shied away from heaping blame on the enigmatic forward. Instead, the coach sought to point out that other players also had time cut, so he could mix and match lines to counteract the Sabres’ speed.
He wouldn’t buy into the notion that this was an extreme move.
“We need a little bit more from everybody, from the 20th man to the first man,” Nolan said. “We have been doing that almost all season. (Saturday) night, it just happened to be Yash’s situation that came up. We needed to get something going, so we put (Richard) Zednik on that line.”
“We have a group of guys that on any given moment, somebody jumps in, somebody jumps out. That’s what I most like about our team.”
Nolan spent about 20 minutes with Yashin before speaking to reporters Sunday, yet noted that was just the last of a series of meetings he held with many of his players.
After a similar benching earlier this season, Yashin was restored to his usual spot on a scoring line and garnered a typical amount of ice time in the following game. Whether that happens again will be decided Monday morning after the pre-game skate.
If he does move up, Yashin could play a key role as the Islanders try to reverse a recent trend that began once they started making regular trips back to the playoffs.
In each of their previous two appearances, first-round matchups with Ottawa (2003) and Tampa Bay (2004), the Islanders earned a split on the road only to drop the next two at home en route to five-game eliminations.
Against the Lightning three years ago, New York didn’t even manage a goal on home ice.
“I think we’re a lot more mature as a hockey team than we were back then,” forward Jason Blake said. “We had great personnel, but I think overall we didn’t have … I don’t know if it’s maturity. We have a lot older team this year and I know we’ll be ready.”
And the time for catching Buffalo off-guard might be over, too. The Sabres posted an NHL-high 53 wins and 308 goals. Of the six they’ve scored in the two games against the Islanders, four have come from defencemen. The only forward to find the net was Chris Drury, who scored twice in the 4-1 win in Game 1.
“It’s still early, it’s two games,” Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. “Sometimes you go through streaks like that in the season also. It’s not like we don’t want to score. DiPietro made some big saves.”
“I hadn’t even realized that we’ve had only one forward score so far.”
With 25 road wins during the regular season, Buffalo is unlikely to be rattled by the faithful at Nassau Coliseum. The Sabres haven’t lost consecutive games since a three-game skid from March 7-10. The one before that was back in January.
“It’s not just another loss, it’s a playoff loss,” forward Thomas Vanek said Sunday in Buffalo. “We looked at some video at what we did wrong and had a good practice.”
“I don’t think it’s a wake-up call. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and we didn’t think we were going to beat these guys in four games. We’re 1-1, and it’s a long series.”