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Backs against wall, Islanders still confident heading into Game 3

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New York Islanders celebrate goal

The New York Islanders mostly controlled their previous three postseason series, though they are now in unfamiliar territory in the Eastern Conference Finals.

An 8-2 loss in Game 1 followed by a heartbreaking loss in the final 8.8 seconds in the second game has put the Islanders in a two-game hole to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not once had New York trailed in a series up until this point, and now they’re veering into a spot where there’s not much leeway for mistakes.

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But an improved effort in Game 2’s loss has the Islanders happy with their chances for Friday night’s game. Head coach Barry Trotz liked the lineup’s process and said Friday he won’t make too many tweaks.

“It was a good group effort, I think we played the right way and we just didn’t get the results,” Trotz said. “We’re going to have to make it harder on (Andrei) Vasilevskiy. We’re going to have to capitalize on our chances and see if we don’t have any breakdowns. I thought we played a real solid game other than the last probably 30 seconds of that game.”

That “group effort” saw New York get out to a good start and win more puck battles. Leo Komarov and Andrew Ladd were inserted into the lineup for Game 2, but according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic, Ladd is likely a scratch for Game 3.

Adding in Derrick Brassard could give the Islanders a much-needed boost to the third line’s offense. The 32-year-old has quietly been a solid contributor this postseason with eight total points in 14 games. In 5-on-5 situations, he has a 67.57 high danger chances for percentage (per Natural Stat Trick), far and away the best mark he’s ever had in the postseason.

Even without Brassard in the lineup, the Islanders held a 28-21 shot lead over Tampa Bay in Game 2 and were perfect on the penalty kill. The challenge has been the finish against Vasilevskiy, who has the best save percentage (.932) of any remaining goalie in the playoffs. He’s kept up his play in the Conference Final, allowing just three goals.

And part of what helps the Tampa Bay goaltender is the ability of his defense to control the area near the crease and get in front of grade-A chances.

Connect the Watts: Islanders Lineup, Matchups and Notes for Game 3 vs. Tampa

In Game 2 alone, Tampa Bay blocked 24 shots and killed five Islander power plays. Trotz said part of the scheme Friday will look to establish a presence near the goal.

“Their defense are big, they’ve got length,” Trotz said. “They’ve got strength and they’ve done a really good job of keeping the net-front clear. … We’ve gotta get to the interior, we’ve gotta create more chaos. We’ll try different ways to do that hopefully tonight.”

Friday does give the New York Islanders a unique chance to test Tampa Bay’s depth for a full 60 minutes. Already without Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay will not have Alex Killorn for Game 3 after he received a one-game suspension for boarding Brock Nelson. Brayden Point also might miss the game after he left early in the second period Wednesday with an apparent injury.

Tampa Bay’s potentially mix-and-matched lines don’t automatically give the Islanders the advantage, but Jordan Eberle said New York took steps in Game 2 to get back into the series Friday night.

“Game 2, I liked the way that we played. We had our opportunities to take over the game and ultimately win,” Eberle said. “You’re gonna go through adversity in the playoffs. You’ve heard Barry say, we have too, it’s not a straight line, you gotta go through obstacles.

“We’re in a little bit of adversity and obviously we have to win today and start looking forward to the next one.”

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