Knicks keep up in race for No.4 with comeback win over Spurs

The New York Knicks are already in the playoffs, but they just don’t want to crash the party. They want to host a first-round series for their fans.

With Miami (39-31) and Atlanta (40-41) costing to easy victories earlier, there was immense pressure in New York. And with their backs against the wall, the Knicks delivered just like they always did for the most part of the season.

Down 17 late in the third quarter, RJ Barrett rediscovered his shooting touch as the Knicks turned back San Antonio Spurs, 102-98, Thursday night to stay in the hunt for a top-four finish.

“We definitely want that fourth seed,” Barrett said. “We want that homecourt (advantage).”

Barrett waxed hot with 12 points in a 21-2 Knicks run, bridging the last 3:45 of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth period.

Alec Burks punctuated that run with a 3, finishing off what Barrett has started.

Burks scored 16 of his season-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. There was no sign of rust in his return from a three-game layoff due to contused knee. His three-pointer with 3:16 remaining broke the 90-deadlock. He hit another one to extend the Knicks’ lead to four after a DeMar DeRozan basket.

Burks’ explosion off the bench cushioned the impact of Derrick Rose‘s absence. Rose (ankle), who played a season-high 39 minutes in their previous game, was a late scratch. But Tom Thibodeau later revealed it’s nothing serious.

“[He] just needed a day [off],” Thibodeau said about Rose’s situation. “It’s day-to-day. We knew we’re getting a couple of guys back. So we thought it would be good to give him a rest.”

They almost regret it with the Spurs staggering them behind DeRozan’s sweet midrange game and Dejounte Murray hunting the Knicks’ backcourt.

Then Barrett decided to take over and kept the Knicks’ homecourt bid alive.

”He hit big shot after big shot to help make up ground for us,” Thibodeau said of Barrett’s bounce-back performance. 

Julius Randle clocked in his usual all-around game (25 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists) and knocked down a clutch jumper with 56.4 seconds left for a 98-94 Knicks’ cushion.

After Keldon Johnson’s three-point play closed the gap, 98-97, Burks and Barrett sealed the win with four free throws.

Barrett finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, and five assists to bounce back from his eight-point dud against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was 5-for-9 from the three-point zone.

Burks added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

”He’s like a swiss-army knife. We could use him in multiple positions. You can run him to catch-and-shoot. He can run the pick-and-roll. He can post up. There are so many things you can do with him. And he fits wherever you want. He can start or play with the bench,” Thibodeau said of Burks. 

Taj Gibson was also exceptional off the bench as he tallied nine rebounds, four blocks, and six points in 22 minutes.

“We have the right veterans. Those guys have been great for our young guys. They made this team function at a very high level,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from minor hiccups, the Knicks have been playing their best basketball in the homestretch.

They are looking to sweep their back-to-back matinee games against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and Boston Celtics on Sunday while hoping for a Heat loss to jump back to No. 4. But on top of that, they aim to stay sharp as they brace for their first playoffs appearance in eight years. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees fail the sweep of the Rays big time

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone, jameson taillon

Under the veil of the coronavirus, tonight the New York Yankees faced the Tampa Bay Rays for the finale of a three-game set, hoping for the sweep. The Yankees won the first two tames 3-1 and 2-1. Tonight the Yankees’ Jameson Taillon faced the Rays’ Rich Hill. Today Gleyber Torres tested positive and was not in the lineup for the second night in a row. So many questions remain unanswered at the Yankees go forward, but tonight they lost to the Rays 9-1.

In the first inning, Hill faced DJ LeMahieu, who had a line drive out to second. Giancarlo Stanton hammered on to left for a single. Aaron Judge flew out to the right field. Gio Urshela grounded out to third base to end the half scoreless. The bottom saw Randy Arozarena fly out to Brett Gardner. Austin Meadows went down on strikes. Manuel Margot hit single to no man’s land in center. Branden Lowe doubled, moving Margot to third base. Yandy Diaz singled for the two-run lead for the Rays. Joey Wendle struck out for the third out of the inning. Rays 2 Yankees 0.

Gary Sanchez led off the second against Hill by striking out. Mike Ford struck out. Clint Frazier walked. Miguel Andujar flew out to center field. Kevan Smith led off against Taillon, and he struck out. Brett Phillips went down on strikes. Mike Brosseau struck out for Taillon’s strikeout of the side and his fifth in the game. Rays 2 Yankees 0.

At the top of the third inning, Brett Gardner led off against the oldest pitcher in the big leagues, Rich Hill, and he walked off Hill. LeMahieu lined out to third, but Gardner moved to second. Stanton flew out to center, keeping Gardner at second base. A pitch hit Aaron Judge. Urshela, with two on and two outs, flew out to Margot in right to end the half. At the bottom, Taillon faced the top of the Ray’s lineup. Arozarena had a lead-off walk. Meadows hit a two-run homer to make it 4 runs for the Rays. Margot lined out to Judge who made a diving catch. Lowe ground out to LeMahieu. Diaz doubled down the left-field line. Diaz went to third on a Sanchez-passed ball. Wendle ground out to first to end the inning. Rays 4 Yankees 0.

Gary Sanchez led off the fourth by walking. Mike Ford lined out. Clint Frazier struck out. Miguel Andujar ground to short to end the half scoreless for the New York Yankees. At the bottom of the inning, Smith struck out. Phillips struck out. Brosseau lined out to Andujar for a 1-2-3 inning for Taillon. Rays 4 Yankees 0.

Brett Gardner led off the fifth inning struck out. LeMahieu struck out. Stanton struck out a ball way out of the zone to end the half. It was the top of the lineup for Taillon at the bottom of the fifth. Arozarena struck out for Taillon’s eighth strikeout of the game. Meadows doubled off the right-field wall. Margot struck out. Lowe walked, and that was the night for Taillon. The new Yankee pitcher was Michael King. Diaz struck out to end the inning. Rays 4 Yankees 0.

At the top of the sixth inning, Aaron Judge hit a solid double that went to the left-field wall. Urshela went down on strikes. Sanchez reached on a single, and Judge went to third. Ford hit into a double play, wasting Judge’s double. At the bottom, Wendle led off by walking against King. Smith singled for two on and no outs. Phillips went down on strikes. Brosseau tipped into the glove of Sanchez for the second out. Arozarena hit a three-run home run putting the game out of the reach of the Yankees. Meadows struck out. That’s three strikeouts in the inning for King, but he gives up his first homer of the season, and it’s a big one. Rays 7 Yankees 0.

Rich Hill, still in there after 93 pitches, faced Clint Frazier, who struck out. Andujar struck out, and that was the end of the night for Rich Hill. Louis Head took over for Hill. Gardner flew out to left to end the half. At the bottom, Margot led off striking out. Lowe ground out to LeMahieu. Diaz walked, Padlo pinch ran for him. Wendle struck out. Rays 7 Yankees 0.

DJ LeMahieu ground out. Stanton went down looking. Judge flew out to center. Smith led off the bottom of the eighth by reaching on catcher’s interference. Phillips had a base hit to right, moving Smith to second base. Brosseau reached on a fielder’s choice with Phillips out at second. Arozarena with men on the corners and one out walked. Meadows doubled, driving in two more runs. Margot popped out for the second out. Lowe struck out, but the Rays tacked on an additional two runs. Rays 9 Yankees 0.

At the top of the ninth and last licks on the line for the New York Yankees, Gio Urshela lined a base hit to left field. Gary Sanchez doubled, moving Urshela to third. Mike Ford, with two on and no outs, walks to load the bases with Yankees. Clint Frazier hit into a double play, but Urshela scored so the Yankees wouldn’t be shut out. Miguel Andujar, with two outs, flew out for the final out of the game. Final score Tampa Bay Rays 9 New York Yankees 1. The winning pitcher was Rich Hill, and the loser was Jameson Taillon.

 

 

 

New York Giants: Saquon Barkley will benefit most from revamped offense

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

The New York Giants revamped their offense this offseason. The Giants spent big in free agency, signing alpha dog wide receiver Kenny Golladay to a humungous contract. Golladay is the big-body, contested catch, number one receiver that the Giants desperately needed. The Giants made another underrated signing on offense with the addition of tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph brings consistency and dependability to the tight end position, two traits the Giants previously lacked at that spot.

The Giants then doubled down in the 2021 NFL Draft, selecting dynamic wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round. Toney gives the Giants a dangerous after-the-catch weapon that they lacked. And, of course, the Giants have some capable returning talent on the roster already. Sterling Shepard is still a dependable intermediate route-running receiver. Evan Engram is still a big-play threat at tight end. And Darius Slayton is a solid deep threat Z-receiver. The Giants also added receiving depth with John Ross III, Dante Pettis, and Devontae Booker.

All of these additions on offense are huge for Giants’ third-year quarterback Daniel Jones in his “prove-it” year. But another player who has not been discussed much this offseason will also benefit from this influx of offensive talent: Superstar running back Saquon Barkley.

The return of Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley entered the NFL as an instant star in his 2018 rookie campaign. Barkley won offensive rookie of the year that season as he led the league in total yards from scrimmage with 2,028. Saquon was explosive in 2018 and he followed it up with another impressive season in 2019.

Barkley missed five games with injuries in 2019, but when he was on the field, he was still the dominating presence out of the backfield that the Giants were accustomed to. He totaled 1,003 rushing yards in only 13 starts. Saquon was still special, however, it became evidently clear in 2019 (and even further in 2020) that Saquon Barkley was being held back.

Saquon was frustrating held back by injuries over the last two years. He missed five games in 2019, bounced back down the stretch, then tore his ACL during Week 2 of the 2020 season, missing fourteen games. But injuries were never the only thing holding Saquon Barkley back from reaching his potential. Barkley also struggled due to the lack of talent around him. The Giants simply asked Saquon to do too much in his first two seasons. But now, with a revamped offense, Saquon Barkley is primed for a huge 2021 comeback season.

How Saquon Barkley will benefit from the revamped offense

The last time Saquon Barkley hit the field, he was the only superstar that the Giants had on offense. The only player that defenses had to gameplan around was Saquon Barkley, and they did that in the first two weeks of the 2020 season. Barkley totaled just 34 yards on 19 rushing attempts last season. In Week 1 he was held to a putrid 6 yards on 15 attempts.

This was not the first time this has happened to Saquon. In Week 10 of the 2019 season, Barkley rushed for 1 yard on 13 attempts against the New York Jets. Saquon has struggled with injuries in his career but he has also been held back by a severe lack of talent around him.

In 2021, that will change. Defenses now have new names and talents to respect on the Giants’ offense. Defenses need to account for Kenny Golladay as a vertical threat. Defenses need to gameplan around Kadarius Toney’s ability to break a tackle and take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field. They do not just have to focus on Saquon Barkley and what he does out of the backfield.

This should result in fewer stacked boxes against the Giants’ offense. Defenses did not respect the Giants’ receiving corps in 2020. Wayne Gallman faced 8+ defenders in the box on 40.14% of his rushing attempts (second-highest in the NFL). With more receiving threats for defenses to account for on the Giants’ offense, Saquon Barkley should see fewer stacked boxes and greater rushing opportunities.

Breaking New York Yankees: Gleyber Torres tests positive for the coronavirus

New York Yankees, Gleyber Torres

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, The New York Yankees shortstop Glyeber Torres has tested positive for Covid 19, making it the eighth member of the traveling party to contract the disease. Torres is a hard-luck kid as this is the second time he has had the virus. He contracted it back in December as well. He has been placed on the Covid related IL. Torres will need to complete a quarantine period and test negative before he’s cleared to return from the IL.

What is most concerning is what we don’t know. What’s really going on, and what is causing these infections to spread so quickly among staff that has all been vaccinated. It was learned today that all of the infected staff received the J&J vaccine back on April 7th and should have been totally protected. It is known that the J&J vaccine is far less reliable than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, with only an approximate 75% effective rate.

Since the team was the first to reach an 85% vaccination rate and had relaxed protocols dictated by MLB, it is unclear now if that will change now that a player who has come in contact with all of the other players has come down with the virus.

Also concerning is that after the game tonight, all the players and staff will have to board a plane to Baltimore within close quarters for the two-hour trip to play the Baltimore Orioles. If this gets much worse or more players become infected, it could potentially cancel games. For the time being Gio Urshela will take over at short and the Yankees called up Miguel Andujar who will most likely man third base.

Apparently, all of the Yankee staff have been tested at least 3 times since arriving in Tampa. Other infected staff members are first base coach Reggie Willets. The player development coach was filling in as the first base coach. Boone’s bench coach Carlos Mendoza was on the field taking Phil Nevin’s place as third-base coach. Also notable absent last night was pitching coach Matt Blake. Blake is the third Yankee coach to be confirmed case of the Covid 19 virus. Boone said he is asymptomatic, as are six of the seven other virus cases. Bullpen coach Mike Harkey filled in for him.

Stay with EmpireSportsMedia.com for all the latest developments in this everchanging situation for the New York Yankees.

The New York Rangers may want to look at Tampa Bay’s Hiring Playbook

With the firing of David Quinn, the New York Rangers are looking for a new head coach. Around the league, pundits have been stating that the Rangers will be looking for an experienced head coach. Of course, the idea is that an experienced head coach would have what it takes to mold the experienced players with the wealth of young talent to make them a playoff team next season.

Many inside and outside of the New York Metro area have listed available coaches such as Gerald Gallant, Rick Tocchet, and former Rangers head coach John Tortorella as likely candidates to fill the open head coach position.

While new GM Chris Drury is likely to hire one of these experienced coaches, he may want to look at the success of the Tampa Lightning. Yes, the team that hired a coach with no NHL experience is now the longest-tenured coach in the league. And the defending Stanley Cup Champion to boot.

On March 25, 2013, Jon Cooper was hired to be Tampa Bay’s head coach after they fired Guy Boucher. Cooper was promoted to the position after having success with the Lightning’s AHL affiliates.

In 2010, Cooper was hired by the Tampa Bay Lightning to coach the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate. During the 2011–12 season, the Admirals won the Calder Cup as the AHL’s champions. For the 2012–13 season, Cooper became the head coach of the Syracuse Crunch after the Lightning changed their AHL affiliation. In 65 games with the Crunch, Cooper led the team to a 39–18–3–5 record, the best in the AHL at the time of his promotion.

The New York Rangers should give serious consideration to Kris Knoblauch.

Knoblauch is, of course, the head coach of the Blueshirts affiliate in Hartford. He also did an excellent job of temporarily replacing Quinn when the entire coaching staff was placed in COVID protocols. Knoblauch went 4-2 behind the Ranger’s bench, and the team appeared very comfortable with his leadership.

While Knoblauch does not have Cooper’s pedigree as far as winning AHL championships, he has had similar success in his coaching career.

During his four full seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters, his team had a 204–58–7–3 record and won at least 50 games each season. They were the first team in Canadian Hockey League history to post four consecutive 50-win seasons. Erie won the OHL Championship in the 2016–17 season under Knoblauch. He was the recipient of the Matt Leyden Trophy in 2015–16, given to the OHL Coach of the Year.

Knoblauch also has experience with good NHL talent in his previous experiences. During his seven total seasons as head coach of the Kootenay Ice (WHL) and the Erie Otters, Knoblauch compiled a record of 298–130–16–13. He also coached such players as Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, Andre Burakovsky during these seasons. He is not a stranger to helping the development of good, young NHL talent.

In fact, Knoblauch does have one thing on his resume that Jon Cooper did not.

Knoblauch was a Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach for two seasons before being hired to coach Hartford in July of 2019.

It might be time that the NHL and the Rangers save recycling for their waste products and look to find a coach that has the skills to continue the development of their talent for an extended period of time.

 

 

PFL 4 matchups announced: Anthony Pettis looks to bounce back against Alex Martinez

PFL has announced the card for their fourth event of 2021. The Pro Fight League posted on their official Twitter page today the matchups for the next round of the lightweight and featherweight seasons.

The fourth PFL event is going to take place on June 10th. In the main event, Claressa Shields will be making her MMA debut when she takes on Brittney Elkin (3-6). Shields is the best P4P boxer in the world and she’s a former Olympic Gold Medalist.

There will obviously be a lot of hype surrounding her PFL debut. In terms of the 2021 season, a lot of eyes are going to be on Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (24-11). Pettis will be taking on Alex Martinez (8-0, 1 NC) in the co-main event of the evening.

Showtime made his PFL debut just a few weeks ago. Pettis was a big signing for the Pro Fight League and they put him up against the popular Clay Collard (19-8, 1 NC) in his first matchup.

The former UFC lightweight champion was hurt multiple times throughout the first two rounds. However, Pettis was able to rally late and almost pulled off the victory. But, in the end, Collard got the win and spoiled the PFL debut for Pettis.

PFL 4

That night, Alex Martinez defeated Loik Radzhabov by split decision. This fight against Pettis at PFL 4 is the biggest fight in Martinez’s young career. This is also a huge fight for the former world champion.

If Pettis falls to Alex Martinez, it will raise a lot of questions about what’s left in the tank. The man who defeated Pettis back at PFL 1 is ready to get back to his winning ways. Clay Collard will be taking on Joilton Lutterbach (34-9).

Lutterbach lost his first fight by split decision and he’s looking to bounce back against Collard at PFL 4. To view the full list of matchups that were announced, see the PFL tweet below.

PFL’s Kayla Harrison has her eyes set on GOAT status in the final year of her contract

MMA, PFL

Make no mistake about it, the best female fighter in PFL is Kayla Harrison (9-0). The two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo is an extremely special talent and she’s completely destroyed every opponent that’s been put in front of her.

In her nine professional wins, only two of them have gone the distance. Both of those fights were against arguably the second best PFL female fighter Larissa Pacheco (14-4). Pacheco and Harrison are likely going to meet again during this PFL season.

Harrison made a statement after her last performance and she said after the fight that she’s the baddest woman in any room. She wants the world to see her as the greatest of all time once she’s done competing.

Harrison’s contract with PFL is set to expire after this season. PFL is already having a dream scenario where Harrison ultimately fights Claressa Shields, but that probably will not play itself out.

Assuming Harrison runs through the other PFL lightweights this season and captures another title, she’s going to be the hottest free agent on the market. Harrison will have the UFC and Bellator knocking at her door to take her away.

PFL, Bellator, or the UFC?

The Olympian has been vocal that she does actually believe in the PFL format with seasons and rankings. However, she does recognize that there are big fights out there outside of PFL that could cement her legacy.

Of course, the biggest show in town is the UFC which is the home of the greatest of all time in Amanda Nunes (21-4). Nunes is the UFC’s two-division champion and she’s actually a teammate of Harrison’s at American Top Team.

Dana White recently commented about the PFL champion saying, “I don’t know if she’s ready. I just don’t know if her people think she’s ready. It’s a whole other level when you get here (the UFC).”

The PFL champion fired back on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show stating, “I think that if Dana is ready to pay me a lot of money, I’ll make him a lot of money. I’m ready to face the best in the world.”

Harrison is likely going to win her third PFL championship this year. After the year is over, The Pro Fight League, Bellator, and the UFC will all be calling. My guess is that she ultimately winds up in the UFC especially considering her ability to make 145 pounds. This will definitely be a story to follow at the end of the year.

Mets’ pitcher Taijuan Walker off to a fantastic start of the season

New York Mets, Taijuan Walker

The New York Mets are perhaps the hottest team in baseball right now, along with the New York Yankees. Things are looking up in Flushing, as the club has won seven games in a row and is now in sole possession of the first place of the National League East division.

One of the primary reasons of the Mets’ consistently good play as of late has been the pitching. And one of the main actors has been Taijuan Walker, a late signing that has given the organization everything it could have hoped and then some.

The right-hander earned the win on Wednesday versus the Baltimore Orioles, facing off against former Mets’ great Matt Harvey, by throwing seven strong inning of one run on four hits with four strikeouts and three walks.

The Mets are getting quality innings from their free agent man

For the season, Walker has a 2.20 ERA and a 2.90 FIP in seven starts and 41.0 innings pitched. He hasn’t been the most dominant, with a 23.9 K% and a 11.0 BB%, but he usually gets the job done and gives the team a chance to win.

“I know what I did last year. I know it’s my second year coming off Tommy John. I feel confident in myself, I felt confident last year,” Walker told the media after the Mets’ 7-1 win over the Orioles on Wednesday. “I showed that I had a couple more pitches. And this year, my only focus is to go out there and help the team win ballgames. Try to go deep in the games and that’s all I’m doing. I don’t care if I’m proving people wrong or not. I know what I can do, and the Mets believe in me. They know what I can do, too.”

Mets’ manager Luis Rojas has praised Walker for being more of a pitcher than a thrower.

“I think he’s become more of a pitcher just by the usage of the different pitches that he’s been working on and getting better to use them in different counts,” Rojas said, per SNY. “The usage of his splitter in different counts, the usage of his slider. Now being able to locate the fastball up and run it in sometimes to a righty like he does, or do a front hip to a lefty. He did all that today.”

Three New York Rangers named to the Team USA Roster

Chris Drury is not only busy being the new GM for the New York Rangers, but he is also the GM for Team USA in the upcoming 2021 IIHF Men’s World Championship starting on May 22.

Today, USA Hockey announced today the 26 players that will comprise the team that will play in Riga, Latvia. The roster includes three goaltenders, nine defensemen, and 14 forwards. This will allow extra players in order to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic protocols.

Colin Blackwell, Zac Jones, and Kevin Rooney of the Rangers are part of that 26 player group.

“We’re excited with the roster we have and look forward to the world championship,” said Drury. “It’s a unique year and we appreciate the dedication and commitment of everyone. We really like our team and our goal, like every other team our country puts on the ice, is to bring home a gold medal.”

Also named to the team was Chris Drury’s nephew, Jack, who is the son of former NHL player Ted Drury.

Team USA will depart the U.S. for Riga on May 16 and will begin to play in the world championship on May 22 against Finland at 9:15 a.m. ET. All U.S. games in the tournament will air live on NHL Network.

Former New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano will serve as head coach for Team USA.

Three players the Islanders will need to step up against the Penguins to ensure success

For any player participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the new season provides a second chance not only to write the wrongs of the regular season but also show the type of metal they possess. The Islanders know all to well about this.

In their 2019 first round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins — the team they will also be up against in the first round of these playoffs starting Sunday — they witnessed Jordan Eberle have a phenomenal showing (six points in four games) after a so-so performance over the 82-game slate. Eberle did get hot towards the end of the year and it translated into the postseason, which changed the course of the series and gave the Islanders’ a significant advantage. Last year in the bubble it was Anthony Beauvillier, who was a bolt of lightning in the qualifying matchup against Florida and the first round beating of the Washington Capitals.

This opening round against an elite opponent has the chance to give a couple of Islanders a fresh start. Three of them elevating their game could help make the difference in them moving on or possibly going home.

We’ll start with Kyle Palmieri.

It’s not a secret that Palmieri’s stint with the Islanders has been disappointing since being acquired back at the trade deadline from New Jersey. He recorded just four points in 17 games and head coach Barry Trotz had a difficult time finding the right spot for him. He was even given a shot to play with Mathew Barzal in the second to last home game, and even that led to no results. Trotz has given Palmieri ample opportunities to try and get going, but now there is no more time for waiting.

It would be a surprise if Trotz decided to sit Palmieri if he struggles — usually he gives veterans the benefit of the doubt — but you never know what he’s thinking.

Over the last few games the 30-year-old did look a little more motivated, so maybe this is a sign of things to come. The Isles’ offense would gain a real boost if Palmieri’s goal scoring touch returned. He would also really help the team’s ability to roll their four lines and the power play which will oddly enough have the advantage going into the series.

If Palmieri is crucial offensively to the Isles having a strong series, Scott Mayfield is the one on the backend.

Mayfield didn’t have the best time in the truncated 56-game sprint. A lot of it came as a result of having to adjust to a new D-partner in Nick Leddy. Mayfield’s regular partner for over a year and a half, Devon Toews, was traded to the Avalanche in the offseason. Leddy’s solid play and numbers masked a lot of Mayfield’s declining play in his own zone.

The Isles can ill-afford to have the 28-year-old make the same mistakes especially against the speed and skill the Penguins are equipped with up front. Mayfield gets caught flat-footed a lot and sometimes goes backwards instead of going north which in the regular season led to turnovers on far too many occasions.

That was the bad. Here’s the good: Mayfield is one of the best penalty killers in the game, as Trotz referenced too last month. The Penguins own one of the top man-advantages this year. Mayfield will have his hands full with that facet, but as he’s shown over time, that’s where he’s most valuable and shines the most.

Now for the third player, and this one is a bit of a wild card: Leo Komarov.

Surprised? Don’t be. Because for as much as Komarov is loathed by a portion of the fanbase — he’s been on Barzal’s wing over the past few weeks — he will be important in trying to get the Penguins off their game.

Uncle Leo is a pest and he does his job very well. He knows how to get under the opposition’s skin. And that definitely plays a factor in the mental grind of a series opposed to the other areas which the Islanders might be lacking.

I know Leo isn’t a fantasy hockey favorite, but we’re not playing fantasy hockey,” Trotz has said about Komarov. “We’re playing with real lives bullets in the NHL. It’s nothing about analytics. It’s about heart and guts and playing the right way, being committed, and playing in these heavy games.”

So, don’t expect Komarov to be producing points — although he did when inserted into games in last year’s postseason — but expect him to do the dirty work and try and make Sidney Crosby and Co.’s life miserable.