Lou Lamoriello ostensibly gathered the media for an update on the latest injury to third-line center Tanner Fritz, but the Islanders’ president and general manager mostly wound up discussing his new team’s first playoff berth since 2016.
“It’s certainly a tremendous accomplishment, coming from where we were at the beginning of the year,” Lamoriello said on Sunday as the team practiced in East Meadow. “The job the coaching staff has done is incredible. But the players, too. The way they’ve responded. They’ve overcome adversity at different times. Right now, our team is feeling pretty good about itself.”
The Islanders, who will play their regular-season home finale on Monday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum against John Tavares’ Maple Leafs, clinched a playoff spot at the Coliseum for the first time since 2002 with a 5-1 win over the woeful Sabres on Saturday night.
However, Fritz is out six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery on Saturday to remove a blood clot from his hand. He suffered the injury against the Coyotes on March 24 but played in Tuesday’s 4-0 loss in Columbus.
The Islanders already were without center Valtteri Filppula, who has missed six games with a suspected left shoulder injury.
Leo Komarov will replace Fritz, who replaced Filppula, as the third-line center. Lamoriello said he does not expect to recall a player from Bridgeport.
Filppula is skating on his own but was expected to miss four weeks, meaning he could return by the end of the first round. The earliest the Islanders will play Game 1 is April 10.
Fritz, 27, did not have a point in four games as Filppula’s replacement, but his speedy skating and work on the penalty kill had a positive impact. He has been in the Islanders’ organization since 2016.
“It’s disappointing,” coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s a great opportunity and this is the time of the year when you can solidify your place as a player. Tanner was playing well. We were hoping he would fit that spot.”
Lamoriello and Trotz inherited a team that gave up 293 goals last season, the most allowed in the NHL since 2007. Then Tavares bolted to Toronto.
“Neither one of us knew exactly what to expect,” Lamoriello said. “As far as the players go, they wanted to be good. They weren’t comfortable with what maybe transpired in the season they had last year.
“You have to give up your own identity to have success,” Lamoriello added. “I believe they’ve done that. Because it’s a team effort.”
Lamoriello built the Devils into three-time Stanley Cup winners, but they went through six playoff runs before winning for the first time in 1995.
These playoffs can be a great learning foundation for the Islanders.
“Every experience you go through is very important, and you don’t really know what the experience is until you have it,” Lamoriello said. “[The playoffs] are only different if you make them different. There’s only one thing you can do, and that is to give the best you have in your abilities. If you do that, it’s not different.”
Notes & quotes: Left wing Josh Bailey was given a maintenance day off from practice.