New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

No one in sports media knows the current Islanders better than Thomas Hickey does. The MSG Networks analyst was a teammate of most of them during a nine-year NHL career, all with the Islanders, that ended only two seasons ago.

So even though, like the rest of us, he did not think much of their playoff chances when April began based on standings math, he knew all along that they had the right stuff to turn things around.

“It’s a certain type of fortitude they have that maybe other groups don’t have,” Hickey told Newsday on Friday en route to Raleigh for Game 1 of the Islanders’ first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. “They’ve been through a lot. They’re battled tested. So I’m not surprised to see them come up big in crunch time . . . They stayed true to themselves.”

The Islanders do not scare anyone with their speed or flash or firepower, but that is not what they are about.

“I think everyone league-wide, when they think of the islanders, it's not the skill on the roster that scares you,” Hickey said. “It's the X-factor of these guys just finding a way. It seems like at times they want it more.

“That’s what led them to back-to-back runs to the conference finals [in 2020 and 2021]. Those are the things that stand out to me outside of key performances from their big players.”

That said, Hickey sees the Hurricanes as a particularly tough matchup for the Islanders, a Carolina team that is better than the one that ousted the Islanders in a six-game first-round series last year.

“For the Islanders, the way they've been playing, coming down the stretch here, that gives me hope to believe that they can make this a really good series,” Hickey said. “I don't love the matchup for them. At the same time, they've proved so many people wrong over the last couple of weeks that I think they're going to relish the opportunity.”

Hickey does see one big personnel edge for the Islanders.

“The goaltending for the Islanders I think is one massive advantage that they have that Carolina doesn't,” he said, referring to Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

“So if there's any games where you say the Carolina goaltender is better than the Islanders goaltender, then I don't like their chances in the series. But I give them a distinctive advantage there.”

Varlamov emerged as the primary goaltender down the stretch after starting the season as No. 2 to Sorokin.

“You have to give Lou [Lamoriello] a lot of credit for holding on to Varly, because I think he understood all along how important it is to have two guys," Hickey said. "Varly’s the reason the reason they're in the playoffs with his play in the last month.”

While he never would have said so as a player, as a media member Hickey was willing to admit he is rooting for a Rangers-Islanders second-round series, just as he was rooting for that matchup in the first round.

“I think it would be great for the Islanders,” he said. “I think it would be great for hockey. I think it would be great for the league. That would be incredible. I'd love to see it.”

First up, though, is Carolina, and another test of the Islanders’ fortitude.

On the Islanders call

MSG Networks likely will carry all of the Islanders’ first-round games against the Hurricanes, with the possible exception of a Game 7 . . . John Forslund, Darren Pang and Jennifer Botterill will call Game 1 of Islanders-Hurricanes on TBS. MSG will have local coverage with the usual announcing crew of Brendan Burke, Butch Goring and Hickey . . . The Islanders’ radio team of Chris King and Greg Picker will work on site for games in Raleigh in the first round. For most of the season, they called road games remotely.

On the Rangers call

MSG Networks will broadcast all of the Rangers' first-round games against the Capitals . . . Sam Rosen will miss Game 1 of the Rangers series on MSG to attend his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah in Phoenix. The last time he recalls missing a playoff game was for his son’s bar mitzvah in 1986. Kenny Albert will fill in for Game 1, with Alex Faust filling in for Albert on radio . . . Sean McDonough, Ray Ferraro and Emily Kaplan have ESPN’s call of Rangers Game 1.

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