The New York Islanders have been playing playoff hockey for over a month now. So facing elimination Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins won't bring about any nerves as they attempt to force a Game 7.
"I wasn't sure how the locker room would feel, but guys are loose; guys are positive," said Islanders forward Colin McDonald after Saturday's morning skate. "We've been down in games before. It's just a no-quit type team."
This isn't the first must-win game for the Islanders this season. Going through most of the season on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, points came at a premium; and it took an April that saw them take points in 11 straight games that helped clinch their first playoff berth since 2007.
Through the first four games, the Islanders outplayed the Penguins at 5-on-5, capitalized on bounces and had the benefit of Marc-Andre Fleury playing in goal on the other side. They took advantage of his continued postseason struggles and split the opening four games. But Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma had enough and made the decision to turn to Tomas Vokoun for Game 5. Whether it was the shakeup in net or the post-Game 4 anger in the locker room channeled into better focus and attention to detail on the ice, the Penguins returned to their form from Game 1 and produced a similar performance during a 4-0 shutout on Thursday.
Knowing how difficult it was to keep the Islanders at bay in Games 3 and 4 at the Coliseum, the Penguins know their attempt to advance to the second round won't be easy.
"That is our mentality. We don't have six period. We just have three," said Bylsma . "The fourth game is the hardest to win and we expect their very best from their team tonight. We have to be ready for that."
If you're an Islanders fan and one to rely on history, your team is in a good place. They've never dropped a series to the Penguins in franchise history (3-0). The last four Game 6s they've needed to win, they've won, as Lighthouse Hockey points out . And if you're an Islanders fan praying to your David Volek shrine, you can rest on the fact that if 1993 is to repeat itself, things are on schedule. Before Volek's goal in Game 7 ended the Penguins' dreams of a three-peat, both teams split the opening two games in Pittsburgh and Games 3 and 4 in New York. The Penguins would take a 3-2 advantage at home, just like 2013, and, well, we know how the final two games played out.
This Islanders team isn't thinking about history. They have to find a way to solve Vokoun and recapture the gameplan that worked from Games 2-4.
"Our approach doesn't change," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. "We've been in must-win games just to get into the playoffs. You can't look at [elimination] that way -- that our backs are against the wall.
"This team has put it on the line all year. They play hard and I expect they'll do the same tonight."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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