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Series finale: Islanders drawing on experience from previous Game 7s

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New York Islanders

There have been personnel changes, coaching changes and plenty of front office additions and subtractions since the last time the New York Islanders played a Game 7 in the postseason.

But for the players who remain, like defenseman Nick Leddy, now is the chance to build off that experience from 2015 (a 2-1 loss in the first round to the Washington Capitals) and get a better result.

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The reasons how the Islanders got to this point might be different but the endgame is still the same. A win means advancement in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a loss means they’ll be back home sooner than they wanted.

“I think we just need to focus on our game,” Leddy told reporters Saturday afternoon. “I think just take it shift by shift, period by period and that’s what (Barry Trotz has) been preaching all series and all the playoffs. There will probably be a little nerves here and there throughout the game, but us as players, we’ve got to control what we can control and go out there next shift and do our best.”

In that last Game 7 against a Trotz-coached Washington Capitals team, the Islanders mustered just 11 shots on goal over 60 minutes, finding twine once on a flukey goal by Frans Nielsen early in the third period.

Six of the current Islanders who suited up in the game failed to register a shot and none of them earned a point. Anders Lee, who had one point in that that first-round series, was a healthy scratch.

Unlike that last series finale in 2015, the Islanders are in this situation under a much different context. In 2015, they forced a Game 7 by taking Game 6 on home ice at Nassau Coliseum. This year, aside from it being in the Toronto bubble, New York is in this Game 7 because it had dropped the previous two games.

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Leddy said there will be plenty of emotions going into the game, but once the puck drops, things shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

“I think it’s good to be nervous, it’s a high-pressure game,” Leddy said. “It’s do-or-die. I think for me, most games I have a little nerves going into the game but once you get out on the ice, everything just kinda takes over. I expect that tonight as well.”

As for whether the remaining Islanders from that team are thinking about that previous experience or going in with a fresh mindset, Leddy said it is “a little bit of both.”

“You can take the positivity out of that game, whether being in your first Game 7 or having that experience of being (in a) Game 7 is always special and always exciting,” Leddy said. “And you can always apply it to tonight. Obviously it’s a new opponent, a new challenge.

“I think for us we’ve got to go out and get that momentum right away and control the game right away in the first.”

Trotz won that series in 2015, but lost in a Game 7 in the second round after blowing a 3-1 series lead to an Alain Vigneault-coached Rangers team. In a sense, there’s a bit of deja vu with the Islanders losing their own 3-1 lead to the Flyers, who are also coached by Vigneault.

But Trotz has since won a Game 7, beating the Lightning in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final en route to a Stanley Cup victory. The now-New York Islanders head coach is 2-2 in Game 7 opportunities.

Heading into this game, Trotz said he’s more focused on the team’s “process” than being hyper-focused on the end result.

“It’s not a normal game, a regular-season game is normal,” Trotz said Saturday. “Game 7, they’re special. There’s a heightened awareness, anticipation, you’re excited. You’ve got some nerves, you’ve got all those good things. Everybody’s all in.”

Trotz added that the players who skated in that 2015 game now have something to draw from heading into Saturday night’s matchup with the Flyers. Having veterans in this sense certainly doesn’t hurt.

“Experience allows you to calm things down, I think because I’ve experienced it, you have a voice of reason,” Trotz said. “Some of those guys in the dressing rooms have gone through Game 7s, are a voice of reason, especially on the bench when your linemates or D partner are getting more worked up than he should.”

In particular about this Game 7, it’s the first time the Islanders are facing a win-or-go-home situation this postseason.

They held commanding leads against both the Florida Panthers and Capitals and closed out those series without much of a hiccup. In losing the previous two games in overtime, New York doesn’t have any wiggle room to make more key mistakes in this decisive contest.

“How you react when it’s uncomfortable is really key,” Trotz said. “You’ve gotta check well, you’ve gotta defend well, you’ve gotta make good decisions, you’ve gotta pay the price at certain times and you’ve gotta go to the dirty areas. That’s uncomfortable for some guys to get out of their comfort zone.

“Get comfortable because the seventh game is never comfortable.”

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