The Islanders will face the Penguins in the first round. That much is settled. It doesn't have much of an effect on the Isles' approach to their first playoff appearance in six seasons.
It went down to the last period of the last game of this NHL season before the Islanders found out their Eastern Conference quarterfinal opponent late Sunday night. The Senators' 4-2 win over the Bruins dropped the Isles to the No. 8 seed and a date with the top-seeded Penguins.
But at their first postseason practice Sunday morning, the Islanders seemed unconcerned about whom they would face. They just knew they would be underdogs against either the Penguins or Bruins. Now that it's the Penguins, the underdog label will be firmly affixed.
"We've been underdogs since last summer," Jack Capuano said after a practice that lasted an hour at IceWorks in Syosset. "Everybody questioned a lot of things with this team, quite honestly. You guys picked us 14th, 15th [in the East]. Then we started playing well and everyone jumped on the bandwagon."
The Islanders again will be on the short end of most predictions for the first round. The Penguins ran away with the Eastern Conference this season, winning 15 consecutive games at one point. They took four of the five meetings with the Isles.
"Maybe we'll change some minds, but I don't really think anyone in here cares," Michael Grabner said. "We know what we can do, what we're trying to accomplish. If someone out there wants to underestimate us, so be it. We can't control that."
Sidney Crosby, who suffered a broken jaw on a deflected shot against the Islanders on March 30, likely will return for Game 1 of the series. He'll rejoin a loaded lineup with all the Penguins' firepower -- Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang, to name just a few.
There's also the history between the two clubs in recent years. There was the Brent Johnson-Rick DiPietro knockout along with the Isles' over-the-top response near the end of the 2010-11 season that prompted a $100,000 fine from the league and a dismissive public statement by Penguins chairman Mario Lemieux.
The Islanders have faced an uphill climb for respect not just through most of this season but through several seasons. They feel they must be unfazed by what's to come.
"It's one thing to finally be here," John Tavares said, "but we'll be ready for whatever comes next."
Notes & quotes: Frans Nielsen and Casey Cizikas sat out practice for maintenance days, according to the team . . . The Islanders recalled eight players from Bridgeport, which did not reach the AHL playoffs. Forwards Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom and John Persson, defensemen Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness and Calvin de Haan and goaltender Anders Nilsson were called up to form a taxi squad that will travel with the Isles but likely will not practice.
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