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Series finale: Islanders drawing on experience from previous Game 7s

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New York Islanders

There have been personnel changes, coaching changes and plenty of front office additions and subtractions since the last time the New York Islanders played a Game 7 in the postseason.

But for the players who remain, like defenseman Nick Leddy, now is the chance to build off that experience from 2015 (a 2-1 loss in the first round to the Washington Capitals) and get a better result.

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The reasons how the Islanders got to this point might be different but the endgame is still the same. A win means advancement in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a loss means they’ll be back home sooner than they wanted.

“I think we just need to focus on our game,” Leddy told reporters Saturday afternoon. “I think just take it shift by shift, period by period and that’s what (Barry Trotz has) been preaching all series and all the playoffs. There will probably be a little nerves here and there throughout the game, but us as players, we’ve got to control what we can control and go out there next shift and do our best.”

In that last Game 7 against a Trotz-coached Washington Capitals team, the Islanders mustered just 11 shots on goal over 60 minutes, finding twine once on a flukey goal by Frans Nielsen early in the third period.

Six of the current Islanders who suited up in the game failed to register a shot and none of them earned a point. Anders Lee, who had one point in that that first-round series, was a healthy scratch.

Unlike that last series finale in 2015, the Islanders are in this situation under a much different context. In 2015, they forced a Game 7 by taking Game 6 on home ice at Nassau Coliseum. This year, aside from it being in the Toronto bubble, New York is in this Game 7 because it had dropped the previous two games.

Can Heart Beat Hart? Islanders Lines, Notes, Matchups for Game 7

Leddy said there will be plenty of emotions going into the game, but once the puck drops, things shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

“I think it’s good to be nervous, it’s a high-pressure game,” Leddy said. “It’s do-or-die. I think for me, most games I have a little nerves going into the game but once you get out on the ice, everything just kinda takes over. I expect that tonight as well.”

As for whether the remaining Islanders from that team are thinking about that previous experience or going in with a fresh mindset, Leddy said it is “a little bit of both.”

“You can take the positivity out of that game, whether being in your first Game 7 or having that experience of being (in a) Game 7 is always special and always exciting,” Leddy said. “And you can always apply it to tonight. Obviously it’s a new opponent, a new challenge.

“I think for us we’ve got to go out and get that momentum right away and control the game right away in the first.”

Trotz won that series in 2015, but lost in a Game 7 in the second round after blowing a 3-1 series lead to an Alain Vigneault-coached Rangers team. In a sense, there’s a bit of deja vu with the Islanders losing their own 3-1 lead to the Flyers, who are also coached by Vigneault.

But Trotz has since won a Game 7, beating the Lightning in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final en route to a Stanley Cup victory. The now-New York Islanders head coach is 2-2 in Game 7 opportunities.

Heading into this game, Trotz said he’s more focused on the team’s “process” than being hyper-focused on the end result.

“It’s not a normal game, a regular-season game is normal,” Trotz said Saturday. “Game 7, they’re special. There’s a heightened awareness, anticipation, you’re excited. You’ve got some nerves, you’ve got all those good things. Everybody’s all in.”

Trotz added that the players who skated in that 2015 game now have something to draw from heading into Saturday night’s matchup with the Flyers. Having veterans in this sense certainly doesn’t hurt.

“Experience allows you to calm things down, I think because I’ve experienced it, you have a voice of reason,” Trotz said. “Some of those guys in the dressing rooms have gone through Game 7s, are a voice of reason, especially on the bench when your linemates or D partner are getting more worked up than he should.”

In particular about this Game 7, it’s the first time the Islanders are facing a win-or-go-home situation this postseason.

They held commanding leads against both the Florida Panthers and Capitals and closed out those series without much of a hiccup. In losing the previous two games in overtime, New York doesn’t have any wiggle room to make more key mistakes in this decisive contest.

“How you react when it’s uncomfortable is really key,” Trotz said. “You’ve gotta check well, you’ve gotta defend well, you’ve gotta make good decisions, you’ve gotta pay the price at certain times and you’ve gotta go to the dirty areas. That’s uncomfortable for some guys to get out of their comfort zone.

“Get comfortable because the seventh game is never comfortable.”

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New York Islanders

Can Dobson, Greene Really Fill Hole Left After Toews Trade?

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Noah Dobson

Going into this unique offseason, it was apparent the New York Islanders had difficult decisions to make with the flat cap.

That first real casualty came in the form of trading defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for a pair of second-round draft picks.

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As was posited on this site before the start of free agency, the Islanders didn’t have a ton of space to make a splashy move and Lou Lamoriello needed to keep his focus on the team’s own restricted free agents. By dealing Toews, it left the Islanders more room in the future with cap space. In the short run, it doesn’t affect the cap space the team has this offseason, but it could help them make moves to free up some space.

But the Islanders also had to consider what the contracts they would end up paying out to their other big restricted free agents — Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal. Coupled with uncertainty of what the salary cap situation for the entire league might look like over the next few years, the Toews trade makes sense under that context.

Devon Toews Traded to Colorado for Second Round Picks

“Any time you see one of your friends and teammates traded, it sucks,’’ Anders Lee said this earlier week. “It’s not fun. It’s part of our business, that side of it. Devon is a great guy and a great player, and you wish him nothing but the best in Colorado.”

On its face, the loss of Toews is a tough one for the Islanders for a number of reasons. He was a key piece on the power play and he excelled in his possession metrics.

According to Hockey Reference, Toews had a 6.1 Corsi relative percentage last season, which was the best among the team’s defensemen. It did take a dip to 1.1 percent in New York’s extended postseason run and he struggled in the Eastern Conference Final, but Toews was an integral puck-moving blue liner for the Islanders the last two seasons.

So where do the Islanders get those minutes and production from now that Toews is in another uniform?

Well, the easy answer is to say Noah Dobson comes in and becomes a full-time player after an impressive 34-game stint in 2019-20. In fact, Dobson’s 4.8 Corsi relative percentage was the best among Islanders defenseman after Toews, albeit in about half the games played.

But Dobson’s pedigree and ability to play well within the defensive zone have made him a valuable piece of the puzzle going forward. When the Islanders made the deal with Colorado, Lamoriello said the team would not have even considered the move had they not had Dobson already in the mix.

“We would not have made this move if the ice time that Devon received, we didn’t have the ability to put a player into that,” Lamoriello said. “And Noah Dobson, we feel, is certainly ready to take the next step.”

The issue here is Dobson is a right-handed defenseman, so it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t be sliding to the left side. So that leaves the Islanders with a hole on the left. Andy Greene will likely don orange and blue next season and would be the top candidate to play alongside Dobson from the outset. But in turning 38 this coming season, it will be interesting to see what Greene can provide not only in minutes but in quality play down the stretch.

The Islanders did re-up with left-handed shooting Sebastian Aho earlier this month, and though he only has 22 NHL games under his belt, he’s still just 24 years old and gives the Islanders a little more depth on the left side.

There are options to fill the hole on defense, but there are plenty of question marks if the Islanders can still replicate — or get close to — the numbers Toews had with the New York Islanders.

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New York Islanders

Islanders TV Voice Brendan Burke Recalls Memories with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick

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Brendan Burke along side Mike "Doc" Emrick at Barclays Center

New York Islanders TV broadcaster Brenden Burke had just walked out of the Barclays Center feeling pretty good.

It was the night of Oct. 16, 2016 and the Islanders had just defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime off a goal from Josh Bailey for their first win of the 2016-17 season. It had been Burke’s first big moment as the television voice of the New York Islanders and he was particularly happy with the call he had.

Burke packed up his things and walked back to his home at the time in Brooklyn. It was then that he got a surprise email that capped the memorable night for the young broadcaster.

“I pulled out my phone as I was walking back and I think the NHL had tweeted out the highlight,” Burke said during a phone interview with NYI Hockey Now. “I felt really good about what I had done in that first real test and then I’m still on my walk home and a couple of minutes later my phone buzzes. It’s an email from (Mike Emrick) that says ‘hey you sound great.’  To have that on top of already feeling good about it, and then to have the guy who you think is the best broadcaster in the world tell you so is a very special moment for me.”

The goal and the email from legendary broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick have gone hand in hand in the mind of Burke since it happened, and it was a memory that came to mind on Monday when Emrick announced he was retiring from broadcasting. Emrick has called NHL games for the last 47 years and has been the voice of the league for the last 15 calling games nationally for NBC.

Emrick is regarded as one of the greatest broadcasters in all of sports and has called 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 Stanley Cup Playoff game sevens, six Olympics, 14 NHL All-Star Games and 19 NHL Winter Classics and Stadium Series games.

“He’s the best,” Burke said. “He became as big as the sport. You’re talking about a guy who won seven or eight straight sports play-by-play Emmys up against the Joe Bucks and Ian Eagles and the big guys. The guys that do the other big sports and he beats them all every year. … I love not only what he’s done for broadcasting and for the profession, but for the sport of hockey and elevating it to another level.”

Emrick’s overlap with the Islanders has been limited on the national stage. Emrick also served as the TV voice of the New Jersey Devils for 21.

Emrick famously called the Easter Epic on ESPN and was behind the mic for John Tavares’ game-winning goal in Game 3 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015. Emrick noted the atmosphere at the Nassau Coliseum that game during his retirement conference call on Monday.

Mike Emrick was also on hand to call an early regular-season game in November of 2016 between the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sitting next to Emrick for the night to shadow the Hall-of-Famer was Burke.

“Just to see him go through the mechanics of (broadcasting), to see the notes that he had, to see what he has scripted out and what is off the top of his head,” Burke said while describing that night. “Just to see the way he goes about the game and interacts with his analysts when they’re off the air. The communication with him and the producer. I think I was 20 games into my television tenure and I was still very raw in a lot of those areas, especially in the ins and outs of television, so to be able to observe him doing those things was a really cool experience for me.”

Burke added: “I figured if I was going to learn a way to do things and to conduct myself in a television booth watching Doc work in my booth, sort of speak, was the perfect way to do it.”

As great of a broadcaster that Emrick was, he has often been described as an even better person. Reaction from across the hockey and broadcasting world poured in on Twitter following Emrick’s announcement on Monday, along with plenty of stories about his kindness and generosity.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers radio voice Alan Fuehring recalled receiving an email from Emrick last August after briefly mentioning that he was getting married. Emrick reached out to Burke as well following the announcement that he would be the new play-by-play announcer for the Islanders.

“He’s extremely kind and he’s genuine,” Burke said. “He really is that guy and he’s the person you want to ask a million questions and he keeps asking you questions. He wants to know more about you. That’s not an act, that’s him.”

The two have continued to correspond and talk since which included recently as Emrick prepared to call a game between the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning during the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Always the consummate professional he was calling me to make sure that he was getting those names pronounced right and wanted to go over the Islanders names and double-check, and make sure he was ready to go,” Burke said.

It’s uncertain when hockey will be played again, but whoever NBC taps to replace Emrick will have big shoes to fill.

“We are all going to be sad that Doc won’t be around and I think the sport for certain is better off for having had him,” Burke said.

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‘It Still Stings,’ Loss Drives Lee For Another Push

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Anders Lee

While the hockey world looks forward and waits to find out when or even if the 2020-21 season will start, New York Islanders captain Anders Lee took a moment to look back and reflect.

Lee and the Islanders are now just over a month removed from their season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to Tampa Bay. It had been the deepest the Islanders had gone in the playoffs since 1993 and the run shocked much of the hockey world.

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