Gap-filling veteran trio is paying dividends for the Islanders

PITTSBURGH — It seemed as if Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello was filling out roster spots with warm bodies when he signed three veteran forwards over the summer — Leo Komarov (four years, $12 million), Valtteri Filppula (one year, $2.75 million) and Tom Kuhnhackl (one year, $700,000).

But all three have played important roles in the team taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round playoff series against the Penguins, with a chance to sweep coming with Game 4 here on Tuesday night.

“In the summer, we didn’t quite know what we had,” coach Barry Trotz said after Monday’s practice. “But you wanted to bring in people who have experience, people who you can rely on through their experiences, their character and all that.”

Komarov played all 82 games during the regular season, while Filppula played 72, dealing with a hyperextended left elbow near the end before returning for the finale in Washington. Kuhnhackl was more in and out of the lineup, getting a total of 36 games. But with his experience having won two Stanley Cups as a member of the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, Trotz kept him in the postseason lineup and he has been a solid contributor.

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“They are great complements and great role models for your younger guys,” Trotz said. “They’re good pros, they’re seasoned pros, and they’ve won.”

The Islanders have had nine previous 3-0 leads in playoff series and have won them all. The most recent was the 1983 Stanley Cup final, when they swept the Oilers.

Defenseman Scott Mayfield missed practice for “maintenance,” and Trotz didn’t sound as if there were any chance he could miss Game 4.
“He’s fine. That was my decision,” Trotz said. “He was going to come out and I just said, ‘Give you a day and you’ll be fine.’ ”

The Penguins took a day off from practice on Monday, with coach Mike Sullivan saying it was planned. He also said they have a history of responding well to a day off during the midst of games every other day, as it was for most of March.

“We have some history there to draw on,” Sullivan said, “but it’s based on when we got the schedule, we tried to plan out.”