When you think about the history of the Islanders, especially during the Stanley Cup dynasty years, the term “Never Say Die-Landers” can be used to describe many of the franchise’s greatest moments and accomplishments.
In 1975, the Islanders trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins three games to none in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals before rallying to win in seven games. Then in the semifinals, they almost did it again dropping the first three games against the Philadelphia Flyers only to win the next three games before losing in game seven.
In 1982, the Islanders took the opening two games from the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs, lost the next two, and trailed the Penguins 3-1 in the third period of game give, but rallied with two late goals before John Tonelli won the game and the series in overtime.
In 1987, the Islanders were down three games to one to the Washington Capitals in the Patrick Division semifinals but then won the next three games including game seven in four overtimes as Pat LaFontaine scored the game winner to end the “Easter Epic”.
The current day Islanders also have that trait of never being out of a game and always believing that they have a chance even when things are not going well. Take Wednesday’s 4-2 win in game one over the Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Islanders had trouble staying out of the penalty box and gave up two second period power play goals to trail 2-0 late in that before rallying to win and taking a one game to none lead heading into game two on Friday night.
It’s been a staple of this team for the last couple of seasons and there’s a big reason why.
“I think the biggest thing is that we trust our game,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We trust what we need to do. If we don’t get to it right off the bat, we don’t change our game dramatically. I think that’s where you get the consistency and over time that pays off and pays dividends.”
Game 1: Wednesday August 20th…Islanders 4 Capitals 2 (Isles lead 1-0)
Game 2: Friday August 14th…Islanders at Capitals…8pm
Game 3: Sunday August 16th…Capitals at Islanders…Noon
Game 4: Tuesday August 18th…Capitals at Islanders…8pm
Game 5: Thursday August 20th…Islanders at Capitals…TBD (If necessary)
Game 6: Saturday August 22nd…Capitals at Islanders…TBD (If necessary)
Game 7: Sunday August 23rd…Islanders at Capitals…TBD (If necessary)
There were a number of reasons why the Islanders were able to hang in there and steal the game from the Capitals. First off, they played well when the game was five on five as the struggles came from being in the penalty box too much. Also, Captain Anders Lee played a physical game mixing it up with Washington tough guy Tom Wilson and then scored the game-tying goal early in the third period. Then, when they were shorthanded yet again, Josh Bailey tallied a shorty to give the Islanders the lead. From there, the Islanders locked it down and finished the game strong.
The Islanders struggles during the second half of the season came when the players tried to do too much and that led to the team getting away from their game. What you saw on Wednesday was an attitude where the Islanders refuse to waver from what makes them successful.
“I think that the confidence that we have within our group is huge,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. “We just build off of every shift. We build off of the line before us and when we play five on five that’s when we’re at our most dangerous. We have four lines that can move the puck that can get the puck in deep and that are fast. We just keep continuing to build more and more throughout the game.”
The Islanders finished the regular season with seven straight losses and were actually one point out of the playoffs when the coronavirus pandemic suspended the NHL season in the middle of March. During the more than four-month layoff, the Islanders got healthy with the return of players like Cizikas and defenseman Adam Pelech but the Islanders also found their game again during training 2.0 before departing for the bubble in Toronto. The identity of the team kind of slipped away from them in early January but now things are, in a strange way, back to normal in a season that has been anything but normal.
“I think the biggest thing is we have our structure in place,” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. “We have that blueprint that we can always fall back on. Whether it’s we’re up a goal or down a goal we know what we need to do. Whether it’s lock it down defensively or push offense, we just always have that structure in mind.”
When the Islanders trailed the Penguins three games to none in 1975, Head Coach Al Arbour addressed his team at practice and said that if there was anyone on the team who didn’t think they could still win the series, then they could leave and go home. That was the birth of “Never Say Die-Landers” and there’s been some sprinkles of that magic over the history of the franchise. It’s something that is now once again part of the team’s DNA and it brings about a very simple premise.
When the Islanders play the “Islander Way”, the system Trotz has instilled since being named Islanders coach before last season, they will usually have a chance to come back even when things are not going well.
“There’s not a lot of hope that something happens,” said Trotz. “It’s just sort of chipping away and I think our mental approach is just being consistent, play our game, get to our game, and if we get to our game for a long period of time, then we’ll generally have success. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have success all the time but it’s going to give you the opportunity to have success on a pretty regular basis.”
There’s still a long way to go in the series against the Capitals and beyond that should the Islanders advance, but through this season of streaks, stops, starts, success, and failure, the motto that has echoed throughout the team, the organization, and the fans dating back to the early years of the franchise still rings true.
Never Say Die.