There was no use denying the obvious for Anders Lee. Yes, the Islanders captain admitted on Tuesday afternoon, players sometimes are like fans and cannot resist peeking ahead.
“In a playoff run like this, it’s hard not at times to daydream and to have wonderful thoughts,” Lee said before Game 5 of a second-round playoff series against the Flyers.
It is the first of three potential chances for the Islanders to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning.
But players are not like you and me, in that they must banish such thoughts whenever possible. In that regard, Lee knows he plays a key leadership role.
Even on a team loaded with veterans, he has embraced the captaincy he inherited from John Tavares before the 2018-19 season.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking with the process and kind of that day-to-day mentality,” he said before Game 5. “Those things that you mentioned, those will come if we take care of business at the right time.”
Lee, 30, was trying to become the first Islanders captain to lead his team to a conference final since Pat Flatley in 1993. The last Islanders captain to reach the Stanley Cup Final was Denis Potvin in 1984.
But in the process, Lee has taken a leadership role on issues Flatley and Potvin did not have to consider.
In June, he issued a statement after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis, a few miles from where Lee grew up, that read:
“I will never fully understand because [of] the color of my skin but I have an opportunity to make a difference. I stand for anti-racism. I stand for the rights of Black people in America, so we can all be equal.
“I stand alongside the Black community through this difficult time and in the future. I stand for the justice of George Floyd and the countless others who have been killed by racism. Black Lives Matter.”
Last week, he was one of the faces of the players’ push to get the NHL to pause the playoffs for two days after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
But Lee has not allowed off-ice responsibilities to affect his on-ice performance. He had six postseason goals entering Tuesday night’s game.
“You kind of go about it like you always have; no need to change anything,” he said of balancing responsibilities. “Just be myself and do what I’ve always done. I think all of us have taken a big step together and pulled on the rope a little bit.
“I think it’s like anything else. You roll with it. You try make the biggest impact you can in the [locker] room and at the right times and go out there as a hockey player and focus on our game as a team and then individually as well. It’s all-encompassing, and I think you just take it in stride.”
Then there is the playoff “bubble” in Toronto, where Lee organized a ping-pong tournament early on and since then has sought with other veterans to ease the psychological challenges of life in isolation.
“It’s important,” Lee said of keeping everyone upbeat as the Islanders’ success extends their time in Canada.
“All of us here miss our families, our kids, our wives at home, our support systems at home, our moms and dads,” Lee said. “Everyone’s been so strong for us, taking care of all the little things day to day.
“They give us that opportunity to be here in the bubble, chasing our dreams, by managing everything from the kids to the house to all those things. Our support system has been phenomenal.
“I know as a group we can’t thank them enough for that, and we’re doing our best here to make our time away from our families worth it.”