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It's time for the Islanders to capitalize on their playoff opportunity

The Islanders celebrate after a shootout victory against

The Islanders celebrate after a shootout victory against the Boston Bruins at Nassau Coliseum on March 9 in Uniondale. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Someday, when the ice shavings settle on this Islanders era — perhaps with a fifth Stanley Cup for the franchise’s collection — future players and fans likely will find the entire thing difficult to believe.

Wait: Those guys played home playoff games in both Uniondale and Brooklyn one year, then every playoff game in Toronto and Edmonton the next year, then Uniondale the next year, then Elmont the year after that?

In the moment, it seems strange. In the future, it will seem unfathomable. But here we are.

So, before the puck drops on Sunday for the first of between four and 28 playoff games, let us take a moment to consider the bigger picture and give the Islanders credit for doing as much as they have in this nomadic existence.

Some of it was driven by arena politics, some by COVID-19, but none of it is normal. Under GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz and with a veteran-heavy roster, they have managed to roll with the challenges and thrive.

They have won at least one playoff series in consecutive years for the first time since the middle of the 1980s and have made the playoffs three times in a row for the first time since the early 2000s.

Soon, though, a reckoning will be at hand.

With most of their key players locked up through 2021-22, the Islanders will take a good team to UBS Arena this fall and should be in the Stanley Cup mix next spring no matter what happens in the coming weeks.

But there is a competitive window here that while it might not be in danger of closing in the immediate future also is not open-ended.

The Islanders have many key players now in the second halves of their primes, so this is no time to squander any opportunity.

It will not be easy. They are the fourth-place team in a division with four very good teams, the survivor of which could well win it all this summer.

In their way, potentially, are the two best hockey players of the 21st Century in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and/or a Bruins team that comfortably led the league in points last season.

But after years as an afterthought at best and a laughingstock at worst, the Islanders undeniably are relevant on the North American hockey stage. That’s a start.

"Look, we had the 2019 Coach of the Year, Barry Trotz, 2020 GM of the Year, Lou Lamoriello, 2021, UBS Belmont Arena," co-owner Jon Ledecky told Newsday on Friday. "That was a tweet from (MSG announcer) Brendan Burke, but that really says it all for the fans, right?

"The fans are excited. I think making the playoffs should be something we do every year. The Islanders should compete for the Stanley Cup every year. That’s what Lou says to the players, that’s what’s in the players’ brains. So it was a new era when Lou and Barry arrived, and we fully expect them to continue to do great things.

"The fans obviously feel the same way, which is why they’ve sold out the [new] arena."

When I asked Ledecky whether the new arena would be selling so well if the team had missed the playoffs the past three seasons instead of qualifying for them, he said this:

"I don’t think about what might have been. What is is that we made the playoffs for the third season in a row . . . So that’s super-exciting for the fan base, and they’re very grateful.

"It's really what we set out to do. We set out to create a team that could compete for the Cup and to find a home for our fans, and mission accomplished on both cases."

That is true. Again, all due credit to the owners, management, coaches, players and fans. Savor it until noon on Sunday. Then it’s time to make it all pay.

New York Sports