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These Islanders look playoff-ready this season

Mathew Barzal  is congratulated by his Islanders

Mathew Barzal  is congratulated by his Islanders teammates after scoring the winning goal at 4:28 of overtime against the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena on August 16, 2020 in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

Teams are loath to compare one playoff run to another, believing each season is a self-contained effort.

And this postseason, of course, is unlike any other in NHL history, with teams sequestered in arena/practice rink/hotel bubbles in either Toronto or Edmonton to try and complete the playoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic that halted the regular season on March 12.

But as the Islanders  try to complete a first-round sweep of the Metropolitan Division-champion Capitals in Tuesday night’s Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, there  is a sense that they  are developing as a playoff-ready team in Season 2 under president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

“Confidence, for sure,” right wing Leo Komarov said of the Islanders’ playoff mindset this season. “What we did last year, it didn’t really matter. This is a whole new chance to show up, just playing for each other and going game by game.”

The Islanders swept the Penguins in last season’s first round before being swept by the Hurricanes.

They started this postseason run with a four-game win over the Panthers in their best-of-five qualifying series for a berth in the 16-team playoffs. The Islanders had a chance to sweep the Panthers but gave up two goals in the opening 2:48 of the third period in a 3-2 loss in Game 3 before closing out the series with a 5-1 win in Game 4.

“They’re focused,” Trotz said of his players. “They focus on the right things. That would be one common thread. They’re focused on the end game, every game.”

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018 and has been behind an NHL bench every season since 1998, is a key factor in that focus.

His defense-first system is detail-oriented, his communication skills strong and his straight-talk approach leaves nothing open to interpretation as far as expectations.

“A lot of teams play the same system, with tweaks here and there,” said defenseman Andy Greene, acquired from the Devils on Feb. 16. “It’s just getting the verbiage. Everybody describes everything differently. Right off the hop, it was very easy, he’s very detailed. He showed the systems we play and he’s very good at communicating and getting his point across. You can tell he’s a veteran coach who’s been through every situation and stays calm under pressure."

But bubble life is something Trotz, like everybody else in the NHL, had not experienced.

Sure, Trotz and the players found some comparisons, like playing in the World Championships or even staying at the Olympic Village for a Winter Games.

But with no fans in the arenas, the closest comparable may be the youth hockey tournaments the players were raised on as they stayed at a hotel with the team.

Trotz said he is not putting himself in the role of an overly vigilant guardian trying to corral the players or micro-manage their time.

“Obviously, it’s not like they’re going out on the town in this bubble situation,” Trotz said. “We just try to provide them the easiest way to get around the bubble. We don’t try to burden them and be in their face all the time.”

The Islanders did get some notice, especially on social media, for their team-wide ping pong tournament, singles, then doubles, during the qualifying series.

“You heard about the ping pong tournament, now they’re on to something else,” Trotz said. “They’re sort of on their own. But this is a really good group that likes to be around each other.”

The start has been promising. And the Islanders could have a chance at a longer playoff run than last season.

Even if they are loath to compare.

New York Sports