Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Credit: Jim McIsaac

For a while there, it looked like it would be a not-so-fond farewell to the season, and perhaps to an era.

Then it looked like it might be a do-or-die, win-or-in showdown against a fellow playoff contender.

In the end, it was none of those things, a turn of events that did not seem to be an option when March turned into April.

The Islanders defeated the Penguins, 5-4, in the regular-season finale on Wednesday night at UBS Arena in a game that was blissfully, utterly meaningless for postseason purposes.

Where the Islanders go from here is to be determined, starting with a first-round series against the formidable Carolina Hurricanes.

But let’s take a moment first to give team president Lou Lamoriello and his old, slow jalopy of a hockey team credit for chugging across the finish line in style.

Earlier this season, some fans were chanting “Lou must go!” at the 81-year-old.

And others in and around hockey — yours truly included — wondered publicly what he was thinking sticking with his aging core, year after year. Heck, the guy even refused against all apparent logic not to trade his expensive, not-so-young goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, at the deadline two years ago. After all, wasn’t young star Ilya Sorokin in the fold?

Now Varlamov, who turns 36 later this month, likely will start Game 1 in Raleigh.

And even as he stuck with his goalies, Lamoriello was willing to make a bold, risky move behind the bench, replacing Lane Lambert with Patrick Roy.

That worked, too.

None of the above means Lamoriello has this team in position to win a Stanley Cup, which is the object of the game. There are no medals for again sneaking into the playoffs, in this case with only 39 victories through 82 games.

But it also is fair to give him props for the second-greatest era in Islanders history, with five playoff appearances in six years, the most recent made possible by a 8-0-1 surge in April.

“Obviously, it wasn’t pretty how we got here,” captain Anders Lee said before Wednesday’s game. “Some of [the outside skepticism] was warranted. There’s a lot of other stuff that we didn’t even pay attention to, because we never really have.

“We can’t control what people think or say about us. All we can do is take pride in who we are, who you are individually and what you bring to this team, how we are as a group. It’s a big pride thing, for sure.”

Lee correctly noted that the Islanders never were built as a speedy, splashy team. That was so even when their core was younger than it is now.

“There’s a lot of intangibles,” he said. “There are a lot of things other than flash. This is who we are. This is who we’ve been. This is how we’ve had success, playing the team game . . . I think it’s really come through in the last three weeks.”

Traditionally, the type of playing style and roster structure the Islanders feature are well-suited to the playoffs.

“I think that’s why we’ve had success there before,” Lee said. “We’re not built on two or three guys. We have guys that drive the boat, for sure, but we’re built top to bottom, and that’s who we’ve always been, and that’s who we are.”

Matt Martin, another member of the longtime core, said, “We knew what we were capable of. It’s just about playing the right way consistently.

“Obviously, at times we weren’t good enough. We know that. We acknowledge that. But you play 82 games for a reason. I thought we did a good job of staying the course and ultimately getting where we wanted to go.”

Whether or not the Islanders’ seasoning helps them in the postseason remains to be seen, but Martin said it helped get them this far.

“The experience in the situation we’re in was vital,” he said. “I thought we were calm and levelheaded through that [late season] stretch . . . I don’t think we ever had any doubt in what we were capable of doing.

“We just focused on the task at hand day by day, and we got the job done.”

It was a job done well. Now, a bigger one looms.


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