Let's put aside for a moment that the NY Islanders lost Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Let's also put aside that the power play went 0-for-4 and that they struggled to create scoring or even sustain time in the offensive zone. It was still damn good to see Mathew Barzal back in the lineup, skating with speed, stick handling with ease, and doing things that no other Islander can do on the ice.
The results were modest for Barzal, though it was encouraging that he eclipsed 20 minutes of ice time (21:12 TOI) to go along with his two shots on goal. Yet, perhaps what was most encouraging was how he felt the next day. "Oh, I actually felt better than I thought I was gonna feel, to be honest with you. Like my lungs and legs felt alright," Barzal said in The Hockey News.
The adjustment from IR to practice to game action is steep for every player, but Barzal had the especially tough task of transitioning right into a playoff atmosphere when the adrenaline is high, and the game is physical from the opening puck drop.
"Well, it's a tough game to jump right into, playing those guys and in a game where everyone's amped up," Barzal added. "But, the hands and legs part of it...you can never simulate game speed in practice, so as the game went on, I felt a little more comfortable with the puck."
Barzal and the Islanders will have to make adjustments heading into Game 2. Carolina simply did not provide many opportunities for Barzal and line-mates Bo Horvat and Anders Lee. But just as Barzal plans to be comfortable on the ice, the hope is that his teammates feel the same against the Hurricanes' defensive structure and create the chances they didn't have on Monday.