As the captain, Anders Lee is expected to lead the way for the Islanders. But as the Islanders are set to square off against the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum in Game 1 of the playoffs, will it be difficult for Lee, who has played a grand total of five playoff games four years ago to lead his team?
Lee doesn’t think so.
“No,’’ he said Tuesday after the Isles’ practice at the Northwell Ice Center. “It’s still hockey, at the end of the day. I’ve played in the playoffs before. I understand how it all amps up. That’s what I love to do. I’ve got the body (6-3, 231 pounds) for it. I’ll try to go out there and work hard, and do everything I can. I’m not nervous at all in that regard.’’
Lee had one assist and seven penalty minutes in the Islanders’ tough seven-game first-round playoff loss to Barry Trotz’ Washington Capitals in 2015 that was the end of the Isles’ first run at the Coliseum. Lee missed the playoffs in 2016 because of a broken leg suffered in Game 80 of that season, and then the Islanders missed the playoffs in each of the next two seasons.
Tuesday, Lee described this year’s Islanders as an overlooked and underappreciated group that was successful because of the efforts of the entire roster, rather than one powered by a few big-name stars. Lee had 28 goals this season and Brock Nelson had 25, the only two players score at least 20 goals. Pittsburgh is led by the biggest-name player in the game, Sidney Crosby, and a host of other stars.
“All season, we’ve been the team that no one’s really believed in,’’ Lee said. “We’ve been a team that has worked for everything that we’ve earned. We’re not a flashy team. If you’ve seen us play, we kind of roll four lines, and we grind them out as much as possible. I think, if you’ve ever seen us play, that you’d see how well we are structured, how well we play our defense, and we’ve got two goaltenders (Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner) that have been standing on their heads all season. It’s really a team game in this room. We don’t rely on one guy, or one line; we rely on all 25 guys.’’
Lee, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, bristled a little when asked if his performance this spring will determine how lucrative a contract he’ll sign in July.
“I’m thinking about our team right now,’’ he said. “I’ll worry about myself when I need to. But right now, I’ll go out there and play my game, and things are going just fine. I’m not worried about underperforming or anything like that. That’s what losers think. They worry about things like that.’’