Playoff hockey. It’s intense, it’s physical, and it’s exactly the way the New York Islanders like to play.
In their Round One series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Islanders are relying heavily on their physical nature to slow down one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams, a formula that led to success with a 5-1 win in Game 3 on Friday night. Through the first three games of the series, the Islanders are outhitting the Canes 141-95.
That’s a trend they’ll need to keep as the series progresses to wear down the faster Carolina forwards.
While other teams predicate their strategy on finesse, skill and speed, the physical element of postseason hockey is synonymous with the Islanders. At this point in the season, teams are trying to adapt their style of play. Meanwhile, the Islanders can operate as they have all year long and dare opponents to beat them at their own game.
“We’re a team who needs to play a certain way to be successful,” said defenseman Adam Pelech. “ It’s not necessarily like a running gun offense. It’s defending hard, being physical and getting great goaltending. Those things are extremely important in the playoffs. It’s something that we focus on a regular basis. So, it’s good that it’s more important in the playoffs.”
Much like their opponents do, there are critics who can’t stand to watch the brand of hockey the Islanders play. But Islanders fans love it, and it was evident for the first-ever playoff game at UBS Arena, especially when the crowd erupted after center Jean-Gabriel Pageau dumped Hurricanes forward Martin Necas into the Islanders’ bench with a ferocious body check late in the third period.
“It was great,” Parise said. “They’ve got a lot of skill over there. So we have to make sure that we’re being physical. It got a great response from the crowd.”
The Game 3 win was critical for the Islanders after starting the series with a pair of frustrating losses. The Islanders scored the fastest four goals in Stanley Cup playoff history.
After earning a win in their signature fashion, the team can settle. The playoff adage is a team isn’t in trouble until they lose on home ice, and as the team builds a playoff tradition at UBS Arena, they’re not yet in trouble. The win should allow them to move forward, getting the confidence boost from leaning into their traditional physicality.
“I think it just needs to be a staple in our game,” Pelech said. “We’re a big physical team. It’s always physical when you play seven games in a row against a team. You need to try to wear them down, and being physical plays a big part in that.”
The New York Islanders get a chance to even their Round One series Sunday afternoon at UBS Arena. The puck drops just after 1 p.m.