Stirling: 'We need to score'
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- After suffering a second straight shutout on home ice and falling behind 3-1 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, exasperated New York Islanders coach Steve Stirling knew what his team needed to do in Game 5 to avoid their third straight first-round elimination.
"We need to score a goal," said Stirling, stating the painfully obvious. "We need to get an early goal. That would help us get a little bit of confidence and bring some excitement to our bench. When you get shutout two times in a row (and three times in the series), the most important thing is to score a goal."
In the playoffs, however, scoring a goal usually requires some thinking and a little hard work. In Game 4, desperately needing a win to even the series, the Isles didn't do enough of either. Instead, they allowed the Lightning to keep them on the perimeter for most of the evening. As a team, they weren't willing to fight through traffic to get to the front of the net, allowing Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to get squared to the shooter and have an unobstructed view of the puck for most of the evening. Of the Isles' 33 shots, a precious few came from the area directly in front of Khabibulin.
"We wanted to take away the middle of the ice," said Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor. "They have a lot of guys who want to get into the middle. You don't want to give them room. They've got some skilled guys. You can't give them an inch because they'll take two."
Isles assistant captain Adrian Aucoin, a usually steady defender who was on the ice for all three goals against in Game 4, felt his team settled for what the Lightning gave them on Wednesday. He figures they'll have to do a lot more if they want to force a Game 6.
"We have to skate and we have to get pucks through (to the net)," Aucoin said. "They do such a good job of collapsing (to the middle) and taking away shots and blocking shots. And, their goalie seems to see the puck quite a bit. We have to work harder in their zone."
Asked if he thought his club was winning enough battles, Aucoin stoically replied, "Obviously not."
Stirling's response: "Probably not, when you don't score that's usually the case."
Captain Michael Peca was quick to agree with those assessments.
"We're making it too easy for Tampa," Peca said. "Everybody has to have commitment in all areas of the ice."
Aucoin would like to see his team do a better job preventing the Lightning from moving the puck quickly out of their zone. He feels that puts his team back on its heels.
"They're a smart team," Aucoin explained. "They move the puck really well. Their breakout seemed to take away a little bit from our momentum. They use a wide breakout. I think that relieved some of the pressure we tried to put on them."
While the Islanders try to figure out what went wrong, the Lightning feel they have room for improvement.
"We've played better in the time since I've been here," said Sydor, who was acquired from the Blue Jackets on Jan. 27. "(Despite the back-to-back shutouts) we're still not playing our best hockey."
Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella liked his team's effort, but isn't convinced that every member of his team is pulling his weight.
"I think we're improving," said Tortorella. "I don't think we have everybody in the same plain. I think if we want to stay successful, some other guys have to come on board.
"I still don't think, as a whole unit, that we understand what total desperation is," Tortorella continued. "As you go through and the series gets longer and you're more into it, everybody needs to kick in.
"But, we're improving. To me, that's the mental part of it -- understanding that how we started the series was not good enough and we've slowly improved."
Tortorella feels playoff games are about effort and persistence.
"I think, in the playoffs, you just look to find a way," Tortorella said. "You try to win your battles. You try to keep it simple and, hopefully, you get some big plays along the way.
"On Wednesday, we found a way," Tortorella continued. "For us, it's playing as a team and just finding a way to do it in a simple matter, especially on the road."
Now, the Lightning return home with a chance to close out the series with a win. The stakes are high for Tampa, because a loss forces a quick turnaround for Game 6 on Saturday night in New York. The Islanders are hoping they can turn the momentum -- which they appeared to do after a 3-0 win in Game 2 -- back in their favor.
"Obviously, it's one game at a time for us," Aucoin said. "If we win the next one, it's a back-to-back game right away and we'll carry the momentum back here and hope to take care of business. Then, it's a Game 7. That's the only way we can look it."
Yes, it is. Now, if the Islanders could just score a goal.
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