The question of whether or not the New York Islanders run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year was a fluke is slowly being answered. And for anyone still having doubts, the Isles gave them plenty to think about with their 5-3 Game 6 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and their 4-2 series win over a team everyone favored over them.
The underdog title is far from new when it comes to the Islanders and with the way they ended the regular season, it was understandable where the doubt had been coming from. But it never made its way into the Islanders dressing room during the First Round, even as Pittsburgh took a 2-1 series lead after three games or as New York had to play from behind on more than one occasion.
“We were down in this series 2-1, we found a way to win Game 5 and I thought we played a pretty good game today,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We had to come from behind. We haven’t led in this series a whole lot and that’s a mental grind for the group, but it tells me a lot about them because they just stuck with it. They understand the process. They don’t deviate too much and we just find a way to keep on task. When you do that you can do a lot of things as a group.
“When we go off individually, we’re not that good, but when everybody stays on task a lot can get accomplished with the group.”
That mentality has served the Islanders well throughout the last three seasons since Trotz has taken over the reins and it was never more evident than during their series with Pittsburgh. The Islanders played from behind in four of the six games, still managing to win two of those contests which included the series clincher on Wednesday night.
Trotz has often talked about the Islanders being comfortable playing in uncomfortable situations. Their never say die attitude certainly showed that they’ve taken that to heart.
“High character, resilient group,” said Brock Nelson, who helped lead the charge in Game 6 with a three-point effort. “We know we have guys in here that have been around. A couple of guys that have won and know what it takes. There’s going to be ups and downs. You’re going to be behind. It’s a race to four games. One play isn’t going to be make or break, it’s how you respond and react to that. You’re going to get a moment and you want to take advantage of it.
“Kind of turn the tide back in your favor whenever that chance comes. In this series, we did a good job of that.”
While the Islanders may not be thought of as a playoff hardened team, they have quietly become one since Trotz and Lou Lamoriello took over. The Islanders have played the fourth-most playoff games (36) in the NHL since 2019, according to the New York Post, behind only the Boston Bruins (42) Dallas Stars (40) and St. Louis Blues (39).
To add to that the Islanders have 11 players with more than 45 games of playoff experience under their belt currently on the roster. So the Isles are far from the team they once were where many of their core players were still learning how to win in the postseason.
“That’s the mindset that we have, that’s the leadership that we have. We know one goal isn’t going to win the game so we want to stick with it, stick to the plan, and it’s the playoffs. There are going to be ups and downs,” Anthony Beauvillier said. “There’s just lots of character in this room and we found a way to get it done.”
The Islanders were trailing 3-2 with 12 minutes left in the second period.
Three minutes later, they were up 5-3 😱
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 27, 2021
On Monday after the Islanders stole game 5 from Pittsburgh, NYI Hockey Now asked Trotz if the win could be looked at as a defining moment. The Islanders bench boss said that it was too early to answer that question.
Perhaps Trotz was right, but two days later the Islanders composure helped lift them to a comeback win to send Pittsburgh home from the playoffs early.
While it may be hard to pinpoint a defining moment so far for the Islanders during this playoff run, their series victory over the favored Pittsburgh Penguins is a moment that chipped away at the notion that last year Islanders team was just a fluke.