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Lou Lamoriello knows how he looks whenever the cameras catch him during these playoff games. Invariably they find him looking calm and stoic, just another executive studying a financial report or a personnel file.
All around him, invariably, the madness of playoff hockey is blasting away like a guitar riff out of Jimmy Page’s amplifier, and Lamoriello’s expression never changes. The Islanders’ GM and president of hockey operations seems to take it all in tranquilly, whether it’s an angry arena ripping his team or the faithful at Nassau Coliseum roaring it on.
“I always say I’m like a duck,” Lamoriello said. “You see a duck and on top of the water he looks as peaceful as can be. What you can’t see is, under the water, he’s working like crazy to stay afloat. That accurately describes me watching these games.”
As Lamoriello’s laughter filled his cell phone, he was bound for the airport and his most important business trip of the year. Friday night, the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning will settle matters once and for all in Game 7, the winner earning a date in the Stanley Cup final.
Lamoriello knows that roadmap well. His Devils won three Cups and qualified for two other finals between 1995 and 2012. He also understands what awaits the loser; he was, after all, on the other side of Mount Vancouver when Stephan Matteau beat Martin Brodeur in double-OT in Game 7 of the ’94 East finals.
“You never get used to it,” Lamoriello said. “It’s certainly going to be an emotional game, it’s an elimination game for both of us. You try to control your emotions but …”
“Honestly, where else would you rather be than Game 7 and a chance to play for the Cup?”
Lamoriello loves this team, and while that sounds like a father who loves each of his children equally, there is something about them and the way they’ve enjoyed this journey together that he’s taken with. There has been a different hero every night, a different narrative, a different storyline.
He knows what championship-level teams look like, and that’s what he sees when he watches these Islanders play. All such teams face moments of crisis. The 2000 Devils, who won Lamoriello’s second Cup in New Jersey, were splattered by the Flyers in Game 4 of the East finals; coach Larry Robinson’s postgame tirade remains an essential part of Devils history.
In its own way, that was as seminal a moment as Game 5 of this series feels right now. That was the last time the Islanders’ plane touched down in Tampa, after which they were ransacked by the home team 8-0. A reporter, asking coach Barry Trotz about it Thursday, tried to diplomatically say, “that wasn’t your best game …” and Trotz cut him off with a guffaw.
“It was a disaster, actually, if you want to be more accurate,” he said.
But the Isles recovered in Game 6, just as the Devils recovered in 2000 to come back from 1-3 down in that series, later to sip from the Cup. Now all the Islanders have to do is write a similar chapter Friday night.
“You always look back with 20/20 hindsight when all the dust settles and you identify those defining moments,” Trotz said, “because you never know when they’ll come. Deal with whatever’s thrown at you.”
They are a perfect matched set, Lamoriello and Trotz, and the results speak for themselves. They are both no-nonsense practitioners of the bottom line, but understand well that it is flesh and blood and beating hearts that establish that line. Lamoriello empowers the coaches. Trotz and his coaches ignite the players.
And the players take care of the rest, and at their very best they turn each shift into a passion play, aware that at any time a puck might be on their blade (or skipping toward a prone body by the goal line, as Ryan Pulock discovered the other night) and that might be the difference between a smile and a frown in the handshake line.
“For us, it’s just about worrying about what you’ll do the next time you step over the boards,” right winger Cal Clutterbuck said. “It’s about narrowing your window of focus, just focus on what’s in front of you. What can you really do except be yourself?”
They will do all of their game-day routines Friday, the same as they’ve done since they were 7 years old. The boss, Lamoriello, will scale his perch high above Amalie Arena, and to look at him you won’t be able to know if the Islanders are up 4-1 or down 2-0.
“You want that adrenaline,” he said, “but the game can only be played when it’s time to play it. There’s an expression I like to use: There’s a lot of 1 o’clock hitters in baseball, but the game doesn’t start until 2.”
This game starts sometime after 8 o’clock. By 11 or so, we’ll know if the next game will be next week or in October. But the Islanders will be there. That much is certain. They’ll show up and take their swings and hope that’s good enough. Where else would you rather be?
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