The Islanders went into Tampa Bay and shocked the Lightning in Game 1 en route to splitting the first two games of the second-round series, and as the series shifts to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4, New York could be in line to get a boost to the depth their lineup.
Josh Bailey and Ryan Pulock missed the first two games of the series with upper-body injuries that were sustained in the final games of the first-round matchup against the Florida Panthers. However, both took part in practices ahead of Game 3, and it appears Bailey and Pulock could be prepared to suit up for Tuesday night’s tilt.
Bailey, 26, is an especially good addition to the lineup, as he chipped in 12 goals and 32 points during the regular season and gives New York an option lower in the lineup that can potentially produce when the Islanders need it. Most of the club’s offense this post-season has run through John Tavares and Kyle Okposo — the pair has combined for 18 points — and while Bailey struggled down the stretch and has only managed one assist during these playoffs, his return could give a boost to the second and third lines.
“I felt good the last few days, been progressing where I need to be,” Bailey told Newsday’s Arthur Staple. “See how it is tomorrow, but as long as I keep feeling the same way, should be good.”
Putting Bailey back into the lineup would mean the Islanders have to make a switch up front, and it seems unlikely that coach Jack Capuano would remove Ryan Strome, who notched two assists in Game 1 and played 18 minutes in Game 2. That means the most likely swap would be pulling Steve Bernier out of the lineup.
As for Pulock, his return will likely see him swap spots with Marek Zidlicky. The veteran defenseman played only 16 minutes in New York’s Game 2 loss and didn’t draw in to the Islanders’ lineup during the post-season until Pulock went down.
One player who won’t be returning, however, is Jaroslav Halak. While the netminder is making progress in his attempt to return from a groin injury, he said there’s still work to be done before he’s ready for game action. Halak, 30, fell injured during the final minutes of a March 8 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and hasn’t suited up since. The earliest estimates had Halak out for 6-8 weeks, and he’s taken every day of that timeline to return.
“I haven’t played in eight weeks, so it kind of feels like the beginning of the season for me,” Halak told the Islanders’ Cory Wright. “I am just trying to figure out my timing and speed.”
Even if Halak was healthy, though, it’s hard to imagine he’d be getting the call to start right away. In Halak’s absence, backup Thomas Greiss has gone 5-3 in the post-season with a 2.06 goals-against average and .937 save percentage and was a big factor in the Islanders emerging victorious in the opening round.