The perception might be that this Islanders group is new to the playoff experience after the team missed out the previous two seasons and the new management, led by president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, has been given plenty of accolades for an organizational turnaround.
But this is not a team devoid of playoff veterans. Quite the contrary.
The Islanders open a season-concluding two-game road trip at Florida on Thursday night. They clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 with a 5-1 win over the Sabres on Saturday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The NHL playoffs will open next Wednesday. The Islanders will play their first-round games at the Coliseum and then subsequent rounds at Barclays Center.
Twelve players on the current roster have played in the playoffs for the Islanders and five have lifted Stanley Cups elsewhere — defensemen Johnny Boychuk (Bruins, 2011) and Nick Leddy (Blackhawks, 2013), center Valtteri Filppula (Red Wings, 2008), left wing Andrew Ladd (Hurricanes, 2006) and right wing Tom Kuhnhackl (Penguins, 2016, 2017).
And that doesn’t include Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Cup last season.
“It’s always nice when you have an idea what to expect,” Kuhnhackl said. “The intensity and the physicality elevates in the playoffs.”
The Islanders go into their final two games, including Saturday night’s season finale at Washington, with their first-round matchup still to be determined. They are three points behind the first-place Capitals but are trying to hold off the Penguins for second place and home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Islanders have not had home-ice advantage for a series since a six-game loss to the Devils in the first round in 1988. That season also marked the last time the Islanders have won their division.
“I think home ice is huge,” Kuhnhackl said. “In Pittsburgh, we had home ice for most of the rounds and it’s always huge when you can start at home or when you go to Game 7 and you’re in your home building with your fans and the intensity. I think it can push you going forward.”
The Islanders fell to 12-7-2 in their first season — albeit split season — back at the Coliseum since 2015 with a 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Monday night.
But the aging barn is almost unique among NHL arenas with its cozy comforts: A capacity of just 13,917 and how on top of the action the fans seem.
“They’re very loud,” said Trotz, his voice hoarse from trying to shout instructions on the bench over the crowd noise the previous two games. “When we were on the visitors’ side, which is not the most elegant side to be on, the building was shaking before the game. If you’re leading the game, you’ve got to duck the odd beer here and there and keep dry.”
Trotz coached the Capitals in what was then thought to be the Coliseum finale, a seven-game, first-round win over the Islanders in the 2015 playoffs, though the Islanders won Game 6 at the Coliseum, 3-1.
The Islanders have won just one playoff series since 1993, beating the Panthers in 2016 in a six-game, first-round series before bowing out in five games to the Lightning.
That season was the first of Kuhnhackl’s two straight Cups with the Penguins. Now, he might face his former teammates in the first round.
“It doesn’t get much more exciting,” Kuhnhackl said. “But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to get that home ice. We want to play good hockey leading into the playoffs, whoever it is.”
Notes & quotes: Hobey Baker finalist Mason Jobst agreed to a two-year, two-way entry-level contract beginning in 2019-20 after four seasons at Ohio State, the last two as the Buckeyes’ captain. The forward, 25, is expected to join Bridgeport for the rest of this season on an amateur tryout offer. Jobst, of Speedway, Indiana, had 17 goals and 19 assists in 36 games as a senior . . . Forward Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, made his pro debut for Bridgeport in a 3-1 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday with one shot.