Barry Trotz has been through this before. He has lost various playoff series and closed out several others, winning the lone Stanley Cup of his head coaching career just two years ago with the Washington Capitals.
Trotz also knows his current team, and he believes the Islanders needed a full day at the bubble in Toronto off the ice and away from the rink as they look to recharge and rebound from Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers — with another chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993 looming Thursday night in Game 6.
“Today, we didn’t do anything. We’re gonna take a little bit of a mental break from this,” Trotz said Wednesday on a Zoom call. “We’ve been sort of going at this for about two months now. People don’t realize we’ve been in the bubble for five-six weeks here, but it started beforehand. We were pushing the guys to get to a place mentally so they could have some success.
“We’ve got through two series already and so today is a bit of a mental break. We’ll get them energized and they’ll be ready tomorrow, there’s no question. I don’t have any fear, and I’m actually enjoying today.”
In the previous two rounds against Florida and Washington, the Isles failed in their first attempt to advance before rebounding in the following game to seal each series.
“Usually you get a team’s best game, and they were desperate to win that game, because obviously if they don’t, it’s over for them,” defenseman Devon Toews said of the Flyers. “Every team in the playoffs is a good team, so the desperation they showed was kind of unmatched by us for a little while. Then we brought it on, but we just couldn’t quite close it out.”
Just as the Isles had stormed back from a 3-0 hole Game 2 of this series only to fall in overtime, they scored twice after Mat Barzal departed Game 5 with a bloodied face with less than five minute left in regulation to net two goals and force OT before Scott Laughton kept the Flyers alive with a deflection goal against Semyon Varlamov.
Trotz, who also believed the Isles’ 3-2 win in Game 4 was their “worst” performance of the postseason, believes his team’s issues are “fixable.”
“Let’a face it, these are two evenly matched teams when I go through chances and we do all the analytics and all that,” Trotz said. “Geez, it’s a dead heat in a lot of ways.
“We’ve got to get better starts; we’ve been chasing the last two games and we’ve almost pulled it off. … I think it’s understanding the intensity level and the commitment level that is needed to close out a team. We’ve got to get to that level.”
Trotz convinced Alex Ovechkin and the Caps to fully buy in during their 2018 run, culminating with the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. While the Isles are a different team, and this bubble format is unprecedented, Trotz believes those messages are similar.
“Now, you can convey them, but when it comes down to it, they’ve got to do them. That’s the trick, getting them to do it and getting them to believe it,” he said. “To me, it’s the buy-in and the commitment. … That’s what you’ve got to embrace.
“And that’s why today is a good day for me personally, I’m embracing that it’s gonna be hard. We’re playing a good hockey team and we’re a good hockey team. You’re gonna have to fight for those inches and that’s what gets me excited. Hopefully I can get our players excited, as well.”
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