The rest of the NHL may be surprised that the New York Islanders are back in the Stanley Cup Semi-Final but Matt Martin, part of “the best fourth line in hockey,” is not surprised his team got this far and has a chance to go further.
The Islanders begin their NHL Semi-Final matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon, a rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference Final. It is the first time since 1983 and 1984, when the Islanders won the Stanley Cup then gave way to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, that the Islanders have made it to back-to-back semi-finals.
But the Semi-Final is not the Islanders’ aspiration.
“Coming into this season we expected to be back here,” Martin said on Friday. “As much as everyone has made us underdogs or thought last year was fluky, in our minds we always thought from the beginning we were going to have another shot at this.
Now with four teams left our job is to go out there and finish the job.
“Our goal is to win a Stanley Cup and anything short of that is going to be disappointing,” Martin said flatly.
The New York Islanders have steadily improved over the course of the three years that Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have been at the helm on Long Island. The Islanders have won five playoff rounds in that span, snapping a stretch that saw New York win just one since 1993 prior to their arrival.
“The energy that this fanbase brings is just something special. If you haven’t experienced it, I think you should try to be there live.”
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 11, 2021
Lamoriello did try to give a more tempered response when he was asked about Martin’s comments Friday afternoon.
“I think expectations for every team each and every year is to be where we are today,” Lamoriello said. “It’s how you approach it throughout the year and the experience that our players had last year certainly puts that focus in just a little higher direction than the year before. I’m not surprised by that expectation and would be disappointed if that expectation wasn’t there.”
Because of the pandemic schedule and exclusive division matchups, Game 1 will be the first time either Tampa Bay and the Islanders faces a team outside of their division this season.
Of course, the last time either team saw a non-divisional opponent was Game 6 of last year’s ECF when Tampa Bay ended the Islanders season.
“If there’s a team that we played most recent that we haven’t played in our own division it would be them, which it helps a little bit with the pre-scout,” Barry Trotz said. “Most of our players played in that series so they understand when we’re talking about certain trends or the way they play. … The first game you’ll have an understanding, but you’ll get a feel for the tone of how they’re playing and the feel of playing against a Tampa Bay Lightning team versus a Boston Bruins team.”
The New York Islanders have faced Tampa Bay three times in the postseason, with Tampa going on to win the Stanley Cup in two of those years. Tampa Bay’s success and the Islanders’ history against them have made Tampa the favorite heading into the series.
It’s a familiar feeling for the Islanders and one that Martin paid no mind.
“We just don’t really think about it,” Martin said. “You guys pick your winners and decide who the underdog is and whatnot. We believe we’re a good team and we expected to be here. … We’re proud and happy with what we accomplished to this point, but the job is still not done.”