This Islanders’ longest postseason run since 1993 has been a win for the organization, both for the experience and the exposure.
Tuesday night brought a win-or-else Game 5 against the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals after the Islanders’ season was pushed to the brink with a 4-1 loss in Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
But Tuesday also marked six weeks that the Islanders have had the hockey market spotlight in New York to themselves after the Hurricanes completed their three-game sweep of the Rangers in the qualifying series on Aug. 4.
And, for 23 of the 30 players on the Islanders’ active postseason roster, it marked their first trip to a conference finals.
It leads coach Barry Trotz, along with president and general manager Lou Lamoriello completing his second season with the organization, believing the Islanders can use these playoffs to build momentum for the future, particularly with the team opening its new UBS Arena at Belmont Park in the 2021-22 season.
"I think, organizationally, it’s really important to see what’s happening on the Island," Trotz said prior to Game 5. "The change with Lou coming in. The facilities. What the Island is all about. The excitement of the new Belmont, a permanent home for us. The type of character that represents the Islanders. Just a lot of good things."
Trotz has acknowledged in the past it was likely hard for the Islanders to consistently lure free agents or to seem like an attractive landing spot for NHL veterans because the arena situation was so muddled. The team departed Nassau Coliseum for Barclays Center after the 2015 playoffs but has been splitting home games between the two buildings since 2018-19.
The Islanders’ recent playoff history had also been spotty. A win over the Panthers in 2016 marked the first time the Islanders had advanced past the first round since 1993. The Islanders then missed the playoffs the next two seasons before Trotz led them to a first-round sweep of the Penguins last year before they were swept in the second round by the Hurricanes.
Now comes their first berth in the conference finals in 27 years.
"There’s experiences of going deep for your organization that you can’t get any other way," said Trotz, who led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in 2018. "For a number of our players that have never been to the conference final, you see the grind that has to go in. Everybody thinks about the physical grind. I think the mental grind is a lot harder than the physical grind.
"The physical grind is every game you’re putting out effort but you’re getting banged up and every team is taking a piece of you every game," Trotz added. "It’s how you restore those pieces. How you focus on the next game. How you focus with success and, more importantly, how you focus with defeat. You pick yourself up after a tough loss or a game that doesn’t go your way. Collectively, that’s what builds winners or champions."
Often, Trotz said, playoff failure is the most important ingredient to eventual playoff success.
"There’s very few teams in any sport that have sort of put that group together and won a championship right away without maybe a little bit of failure on the way," Trotz said. "The dynasty of the Islanders when they won the four straight, there was a lot of hardship on the front end before they won four in a row."
The Islanders, an expansion franchise in 1972, were eliminated in the conference finals three straight times from 1975-77. In 1978, they were upset in the first round by the Maple Leafs and the Rangers upset them in the NHL semifinals the next season. Then, the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
The Oilers finally dethroned the Islanders in 1984 after losing the Cup Final to them the previous year.
"I came from my former club that had a lot of heartbreak before they broke through," Trotz said of the Capitals. "There’s a lot of lessons on the way and understanding those lessons and being able to deal with them are invaluable for organizations and individuals in the organization."