During their one month of playoff hockey in Toronto, Martin and Komarov have already combined for four goals.
None of those were bigger than the one-two punch the New York Islanders’ bottom-six veterans supplied in the second period of Saturday’s 3-1 Game 3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, to restore their club’s series lead, now 2-1.
“There’s really no playbook for this kind of thing,” Martin said.
The teams’ back-to-back had been voluntarily and uniformly postponed two days by the players in an effort to shift the conversation to racism and systematic injustice against Black people in America.
A smooth segue from confronting a societal evil to chasing a boyhood dream does not exist.
But as bubble hockey resumed Saturday, Islanders coach Barry Trotz was confident his group could compartmentalize. They were capable of honouring the movement and still zeroing in on the moment.
“I have a lot of faith and trust in this group that you have to park certain things,” Trotz reminded. “We are in the bubble to try and win a Stanley Cup.”
The coach wasn’t minimizing the mini strike or the unique and impactful intrasquad conversations held within Hotel X’s athlete village and two time zones west with the teams in Edmonton. But he understands the very reason their platform exists at all is because fans admire what they can conjure on ice.
“It’s learning to be in the moment. The moment calls you to play hockey, you gotta play hockey. The moment calls you to stand strong for a social issue, that moment they stand strong,” Trotz said.
Simple as that.
“The games are going to be just as intense. That doesn’t change anything,” assures defenceman Scott Mayfield, who quickly reached out to the Islanders’ community relations director to get the ball rolling on his involvement in New York’s minority communities.
“We’re professional athletes. We go out there to win.”
Feels like that is all the Islanders do these days.
The four-line group prides itself on a 200-foot game and has trotted out a consistent even-strength effort now for 12 post-season games and counting.
On Saturday, that entailed snapping the Flyers’ remarkable streak of 18 consecutive wins (including eight playoff wins) when striking first.
And when rookie goaltender Carter Hart denied Brock Nelson with his glove hand in tight and stoned Anthony Beauviller on an odd-man rush, it felt like the Flyers might go 19-0 when drawing first blood.
Then the grinders strapped on their boots and the Islanders’ chip-and-charge formula began yielding results.
A deft forecheck by Mathew Barzal teed up Martin in the slot, and his third of the playoffs tied the game. Komarov, rocking his tilted full cage, scored from a similar spot with a mere 5.1 seconds left in the second frame. Neither shot was a work of art, yet both were effective and released from the most dangerous area on the ice.
“The big moments are getting bigger,” Trotz said.
Raise the name “Leo,” and Trotz’s straightlaced post-game face opens to a smile
“He brings people into the fight. He’s sometimes not the prettiest guy to watch, but he’s a guy that gets his nose dirty all the time,” Trotz said.
“He’s one of the guys you can always have fun with on a daily basis. Every team has characters. Leo is a character.”
“It’s tight,” Komarov reasons. “You just need to throw the pucks to the net and hope for it to go in.”
Coming into this round, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault predicted “a greasy series” smeared with ugly goals and few of them. And the greasier team has the edge.
“We’re not blessed with a lot of those top-end guys in terms of the heavy high-offensive guys, but we have a lot of very valuable pieces that can contribute in different ways,” Trotz said. “It’s sort of how we’re built.”
So, by the time captain Anders Lee battled for net-front power-play positioning and banged in a backhanded rebound — again right near and right through Hart — in the third period, the rest felt elementary.
Especially with the Flyers averaging just 2.36 goals per playoff game at its top six failing to generate.
Give the Islanders’ defence a two-goal cushion at your peril. And Varlamov hasn’t lost consecutive starts since March. Once again, the Flyers could not generate enough high-danger looks, win enough puck battles or fight their way to the home plate area.
“Our line can do better. We know that,” lamented captain Claude Giroux, still goal-free in these playoffs.
“Guys are frustrated. We’ve got to take that frustration and bring it as energy.”
When these two sides pick up their series less than 24 hours from now, the pressure will be entirely on Philadelphia and its anemic offence to make this thing a best-of-three.
Because as it stands, this series has the Islanders’ grimy boot marks all over it.
“I do think, at the end of the day, you gotta give credit to the opposition. I mean, that’s a veteran team that knows how to play a gritty, greasy game,” Vigneault said.
“We need to be a lot better than you were tonight — especially our top-end guys.”