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The New York Islanders have a wonderful problem

Sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins meant waiting around a very long time for Round 2, but the advantage for the Islanders is that they are healthy and keen as the second leg of the Stanley Cup marathon begins.

LONG ISLAND - Nearly every team in the NHL would like to be the New York Islanders or Columbus Blue Jackets right now: who wouldn’t want to sweep a first round series while the rest of the competition whales on each other for an extended period of time?

And hey, let’s toss in Colorado too, since the Avalanche dispatched Calgary in five - but you get the idea. But there is some trickiness to the situation as well. The Islanders haven’t played a real hockey game since April 16, when they completed their sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning there was a 10-day gap before their second-round series with Carolina began.

Coach Barry Trotz addressed the long layoff at the team’s final full practice before Game 1 against the Hurricanes and he saw an Isles group that was ready to go.

“I could tell that we were overbaked out there, overcooked,” he said. “We just want to play. You could tell there were guys that were turning the switch on a little bit more. Not that they’ve turned it off - they’ve done a really good job - but the urgency is definitely there. They were more business-like.”

Trotz, who helmed last year’s Stanley Cup champions from Washington, also knows that an extended break during the playoffs is a very nice thing to have.

“To me, it’s a positive,” he said. “We got people healthy and we worked on parts of our game. I can tell you this: if we didn’t have those 10 days off, we’d be missing two or three players through the rest of that past series. I know the grind. If you want to go the distance, it’s a tremendous grind physically and maybe a harder grind mentally. There might be some rust, as you can’t duplicate some things, but I know we will get stronger because we’re rested. It should be to our advantage.”

For the players, the lull can be tough. Right winger Jordan Eberle, who was so crucial to that first-round sweep of the Penguins, spent his final day off just hanging around. And, of course, he watched the hockey game that saw Carolina beat Washington in double-overtime on Brock McGinn’s winner (extending that series just a little bit longer, to New York’s advantage).

“It’s tough to keep your mentality,” Eberle said. “You’re watching hockey but you feel like you haven’t played in a month. We’ve tried to do our best in practice with game situations and the important thing is once we get out there, to get our timing and energy back. I think it will come back quickly.”

Another bonus for the Islanders is that they will do so at home, with Carolina having to travel. Now the challenge for New York (and for Columbus, as the Blue Jackets take on Boston) will be to match that intensity that the Hurricanes showed against the Capitals.

For Trotz, there isn’t that much difference between Round 1 of the playoffs and Round 2, however. The bigger leap is from the regular season to Round 1, he believes. And staying healty and mentally fit is the key to a long run, because as the marathon goes on, the action on the ice isn’t necessarily better.

“The hockey, at times, is sloppier,” Trotz said. “If you can stay fresh, hopefully you can be accurate in how you play the game, be detailed and execute at a high level because you’re not mentally fried.”

The Islanders would love to be in that position, but they’ll have to progress through the Eastern bracket before they can do so. But with so many upsets in the first round, the path is there. Boston is the only team remaining in the league that had more regular season points than the Islanders and the Bruins will have those rested Blue Jackets to contend with.

In a year where anything seems possible, why not consider the rested, structured Islanders?


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