John Tavares is hoping the Islanders haven’t played their final game at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders have known all along what was at stake this year in Uniondale, but on Friday afternoon the reality of the moment took hold.
The depleted Isles took the ice for practice at Nassau Coliseum some 27 hours before the puck drop for Game 6 against the Capitals. A win would push the series to a decisive Game 7 back in Washington. A loss would mean the end of 43 years of hockey at the old barn.
“All you have to do is remember what you were doing in training camp to realize how long a road it’s been to this point. To be completely honest, we knew we were going to be in a situation like this at some point,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “We had to win two (of the final three) games. We knew that going into last game. We had three chances, now we have two chances. The goal is no different. We’ve still got to win two games. We’ve got a home game in a place where we’ve been pretty successful and I think we feel pretty good about it.”
It was difficult to be positive after their Game 5 performance. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak kept the Isles afloat for the first two periods, but sloppy puck management and a depleted defensive core led to a disastrous third. The Caps won, 5-1, and Halak was pulled in the only convincing game of the series.
“We were right there heading into the third period, but they were the better team in the third period and deserved to win,” Thomas Hickey said. “We’ve got a lot more to play for (in Game 6). We’ve got our season, we’ve got a lot of history we’re playing for too. Whether you say it’s harder or easier, it’s an extra boost and motivation for us.”
What isn’t motivating is the loss of another defenseman. In Game 5, Isles D-man Calvin de Haan took a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Troy Brouwer in the third period.
De Haan, along with fellow defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (suspected concussion) and Travis Hamonic (apparent knee injury), were noticeably absent from Friday’s skate.
The injuries will likely force Jack Capuano to use rookies Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock to play some key minutes on the blue line. Reinhart struggled in Game 5 with a -2 rating in just 12:42 of ice time. Pulock has never played in an NHL game.
“It is what it is. It’s our situation,” captain John Tavares said. “We’ve had injuries during the year and we’ve found a way to win hockey games and play well. This time of year it gets heightened and we’re missing some veterans guys and (their) big presence. We just have to be better. I think individually we believe in our group. Guys have come in and played more minutes, played more roles, had more opportunity… tomorrow is a big game and we need everyone to contribute.”
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