Head coach Patrick Roy of the New York Islanders against...

Head coach Patrick Roy of the New York Islanders against the New York Rangers at UBS Arena on April 9, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

NEWARK – Patrick Roy ended practice late last month by gathering his players at center ice during an 0-5-1 skid. The message to his Islanders was simple and direct.

“You’re going to surprise some people,” the ever-optimistic coach said.

Fast forward to Monday night at Prudential Center against the Devils and the Islanders have a chance to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division or the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot as they enter the match on a 6-0-1 spurt.

Surprise? Perhaps to some. But not to the Islanders.

“I think we’re a group that’s got a ton of confidence in each other,” said Kyle Palmieri, acquired from the Devils in 2021. “Whether that wavers outside this room or not, it’s out of our control. We’ve been through a lot together and, this year, every bits of the ups-and-downs. But we’re in this position and we did it ourselves. I think we can find some confidence and excitement in the opportunity ahead of us.”

The Islanders were five points out of the second wild-card spot and six points behind the Flyers for third place on March 22 at the end of their 0-5-1 slump. They were still five points behind the Capitals for third place and five points behind the Flyers for the second wild-card spot on March 31 after a 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay.

That defeat to the Lightning stood as their last regulation loss entering Monday’s game. The Islanders won the next six before dropping a thrilling 3-2 shootout to the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

Through all of it, Roy’s message resonated with the group.

“It’s one of those seasons where we were battling a lot,” captain Anders Lee said. “We were winning one or two, losing two or three. We just couldn’t get that consistency down. We knew what we were capable of. We knew we were a good hockey team. We just weren’t proving it to ourselves as much as we needed to.

“I think that was a nice piece of encouragement and belief in this group that we had in ourselves. I think he helped pull it out and that he believes in us, too. Sometimes you just need a little bit of good energy and positive energy and he’s brought that for sure. It was only a matter of time. That’s how we felt and we’ve put it together of late. We still have got some work to do.”

Roy was hired to replace the fired Lane Lambert on Jan. 20 after the Islanders concluded an 0-3-1 road trip with a 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago, headed to the NHL Draft lottery. It was part of a longer 2-6-2 slide.

But, from Day One, Roy insisted he liked what he saw from the group and understood the Islanders’ potential.

On Sunday, Roy elaborated on his long-standing optimism with his new team.

“They play together and they work,” said Roy, a Hall of Fame goalie who won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens and two more with the Avalanche. “This is how we won those Stanley Cups in Montreal. We were not the best team on paper. But we played together and we worked hard and we had good goaltending.”

Roy certainly believes the Islanders have that with Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov.

“So I feel like if we have the quality of goaltending and the guys keep playing together, this is the recipe of our team,” Roy said. “We talk about it every day. We want to play north. We want to make sure we play together. Every time we come back in our zone and we work as a unit of five to break out, we have some success.”

It may have taken some ups-and-downs, but Roy’s belief in the Islanders has seemingly come to fruition.

“He believes in us and he said it from Day 1,” defenseman Mike Reilly said. “When someone new comes in, you could tell he was bought in and he was just wanting us to buy in. That takes a little bit of time. It’s not going to be complete smooth sailing. But I think we’ve really rallied around that for sure. It’s good we’ve got belief from him.”

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