For any rookie in any sport, the postseason can be a frightening time. The intensity is dialed up, every mistake is magnified, each crucial moment can be the difference between winning and losing. This is doubled when it comes to Stanley Cup Playoffs with how much speed and increased physicality the games are played with.
Oliver Wahlstrom is one of two Islanders rookies getting their first taste of postseason hockey in their careers, the other being goaltender Ilya Sorokin. Through the Islanders’ first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins so far, the 20-year-old forward has embraced the challenges that come with playing in the playoffs. Wahlstrom’s been engaged, not afraid to get nasty, and created chances offensively. He also earned his first playoff point in Sunday’s game one victory on Kyle Palmieri’s OT winner.
This has been a welcoming sight to see after how some of the Isles’ more prominent forwards have yet to make an impact. Wahlstrom has been on a line with Palmieri and J.G. Pageau, and they have been arguably the best line for the Islanders after two games.
“Wally was really strong,” head coach Barry Trotz said after game one. “He was really strong on the walls, for the most part, he was on the right side of the puck. I always judge how a player reacts on the puck battles and when it gets chaotic in his own end. I thought he was really calm. He wasn’t small in those big moments. When it got chaotic, he wasn’t running around. He got in position, he did what he needed to do… Hopefully, he can carry that forward. That was a really good first step for him.”
Even in last night’s 2-1 loss — despite taking three consecutive penalties in the second period, one I might add was a total garbage call — Wahlstrom kept pushing hard. Trotz also kept playing him. That shows trust. In any other situation where someone on the team commits those types of fouls, he wouldn’t see the ice for a while in that specific game (see Mathew Barzal during the regular season).
Oliver Wahlstrom: Not happy pic.twitter.com/K9gUsOiejV
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 19, 2021
Wahlstrom was solid for the Islanders in the regular season — 21 points 44 games — but there was a lot of speculation about how he would react to a bigger stage. He’s embraced it fully. Sure two games might be a small sample size, but it’s an encouraging sign for what might come from him the rest of the series.
The Isles split in Pittsburgh and are now coming back home for a pivotal game three tomorrow night. It will be Wahlstrom’s first experience of playing in front of a playoff crowd at Nassau Coliseum. That should be a fun sight to see. And if what we’ve seen from him to this point is any indication, that type of environment won’t faze him either.
One element that won’t be talked about as much from the Isles game two loss was the incredible work by the penalty kill. Shorthanded the Islanders were again 2-for-2, which makes them now a perfect 5/5 man down in the series. Leo Komarov was once again a monster, helping take time off the clock and giving the Pens fits. D-man Scott Mayfield was also terrific especially when Pittsburgh was trying to find scoring lanes.
As the series shifts to Long Island, one has to think the Islanders’ play at home this year could really prove huge the next two games. Yes the only team they really struggled with at home was the Penguins; Pittsburgh accounted for two of the club’s seven defeats on home ice, both of which came in overtime. But the Islanders seem to be a different squad in front of their fans and they’ll get 6,800 of them rocking the barn starting tomorrow night, the most they’ve played in front of all season.