If it were easy to come back from 3-1 down in the conference finals, more than one team in NHL history would have been able to do it.
But there is one, and one alone, to overcome such exigent circumstances, and that would be the 2000 Devils, who took three straight from the Flyers before defeating the Stars in a six-game final to earn the team’s second Stanley Cup title.
That comeback was kick-started in the moments after the Devils’ Game 4 defeat at the Meadowlands when Larry Robinson, the club’s generally mild-mannered coach, kicked over a trash can and erupted with a tirade aimed at his players.
That type of history was apparently not duplicated by Barry Trotz on Sunday when his Islanders lost Game 4 to the Lightning to fall behind 3-1 in the conference series with extinction looming with Tuesday night’s Game 5. The coach did not fling objects nor unleash a rant. Well, not that we have know of, anyway.
But there might be a slight change in the method of communication to his players, who have been late arriving at this final-four competition against an opponent leaps and bounds superior to the Islanders’ three prior victims. There is no time left for coaxing and no room left for error.
“I think there is a constant I try to stay to,” said Trotz, whose Caps overcame a 3-2 conference finals hole to defeat the Lightning after ringing up back-to-back shutouts in Washington’s Cup-winning 2018. “But I think the temperament is a little different depending on different things, the call to actions and emphasis on our focus and details.
“That’s where we have to have that locked in because we’re playing a team that can execute at a pretty high level and they’ve jumped on us a couple of times. We’re going to need a total team effort. We need a total team effort. We have a couple of people who need to raise their game and I know they will.”
If Trotz’s change in demeanor didn’t resemble Robinson’s of two decades ago while working for a general manager named Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders coach seems poised to effect personnel changes for this second potential elimination match of the summer following the successful foray into Game 7 against the Flyers.
That would likely entail changes to the club’s top unit of Anders Lee, Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle that has been outdone by the Lightning’s first line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat.
Kucherov has been on for eight goals and none against, Palat six and none, and Point, five and none. Barzal, meanwhile, has been on for one goal for and five against, Lee for two for and four against and Eberle for one scored and three against.
“We’re considering that for sure,” the coach said. “One of the things they have to understand, too, and this is part of the growth of a young player, and even that line, is that if there are times when it’s not going your way, there are so many other ways you can contribute just in the details and the focus you have to play with.”
Trotz could flip Barzal and Brock Nelson, the second-line center who has been the team’s best forward this series and perhaps through the tournament. That would move Barzal between Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey to form a unit that was intact for 75:10 of five-on-five during the season and that posted a positive Corsi number but was on for only two goals for and seven against. The coach could also elevate Derick Brassard into a top six role beside Barzal, but the coach might hesitate to make such a move if he believes that would compromise play away from the puck. It is just as possible that Brassard could be scratched.
And Trotz could promote J-G Pageau to a top six role, but that would compromise the team’s depth that already took a hit when Casey Cizikas suffered his bubble-busting injury. On the back end, the coach could reinstate Johnny Boychuk, out since Game 3 of the qualifiers, in for either Devon Toews or Andy Greene. Still, the focus is on the top of the depth chart.
“When any athlete that considers himself a really good player or a line that considers themselves a really good line isn’t having success, that weighs on them,” Trotz said. “They put a lot of pressure on themselves, the fans will put pressure on them, [the press] will put pressure on them, and it’s something you have to deal with.
“So just play the right way, shift in and shift out and you’ll usually get results.”
Kicking over a trash can might help, too.