For the Islanders, it’s been 27 years since the last time that they played for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
That was in 1993 when the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals in the opening round followed by a an upset win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Patrick Division Finals thanks to David Volek’s overtime goal in game seven that sent the Isles to the Wales Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. The Islanders fell just a bit short in their quest to compete for a Stanley Cup as they lost the series in five games, but that was supposed to be just the beginning for that group.
Yada Yada Yada…the Islanders haven’t been back in that position since then although they were close a couple of times. They won their first round series against the Florida Panthers in 2016, but lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in round two. Last season, the Islanders swept the Penguins in the opening round before they were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.
But on Tuesday night, the Islanders take a 3-1 series lead into a 7pm game five against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. With a win, the Islanders would earn a trip to Edmonton for the Eastern Conference Final and a meeting with Tampa Bay who finished off the Boston Bruins on Monday night.
The Islanders are 10-0 in ten previous playoff series in which they had a 3-1 lead. They’re in control of this series against the Flyers, but taking nothing for granted.
“Let’s look at the task at hand,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “The task at hand is that we gotta win one more game and that last game is the toughest. We’re going to have to earn it. No one is going to walk in a room and give us a game. We’ve gotta go earn it.”
Islanders/Flyers Series Schedule:
Game 1: Monday August 24th…Islanders 4 Flyers 0 (Islanders lead 1-0)
Game 2: Wednesday August 26th…Flyers 4 Islanders 3 F/OT (Series Tied 1-1)
Game 3: Saturday August 29th…Islanders 3 Flyers 1 (Islanders lead 2-1)
Game 4: Sunday August 30th…Islanders 3 Flyers 2 (Islanders lead 3-1)
Game 5: Tuesday September 1st…Islanders vs Flyers…7pm…
Game 6: Thursday September 3rd…Flyers vs Islanders…TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Saturday September 5th…Islanders vs Flyers…TBD (if necessary)
The Islanders won back to back games over the weekend taking game three 3-1 on Saturday night and that was followed by a 3-2 victory in game four on Sunday night, a game that Trotz called “the worst game that we’ve played to this point in the playoffs.”
Regardless of how you want to characterize their performance in game four, it was a huge victory for the Islanders who now have a chance to eliminated the number seed in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps those words were a way for Trotz to push his team to get to a new level, but the players themselves already know that they can play a more complete game.
Especially in an elimination game.
“It gives the group a little bit of motivation knowing that we have to be better coming out,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson who scored two goals in game four. “(The Flyers are) going to come with everything that they got now that we’re up 3-1 so we have to still find a way to raise our level.”
This has certainly not been a normal post-season for the Islanders or the other 23 teams that began play in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles at the beginning of August. As part of the return to play after the season was halted in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the players, coaches and staff have been away from their families and they’re playing the most important games of the season in an empty arena with no fans.
But despite all that, the Islanders and the other teams still alive all have their sights set on the ultimate prize.
“I think when you get to this point the eight teams that are still left believe that they can win the Stanley Cup,” said Trotz. “You don’t know how it’s going to play out. It’s a journey and you don’t know how the journey is going to go. The teams that are here are here because they all have the good mindsets and that’s where it starts.”
It’s been a long wait for the franchise and the fans for a return trip to the NHL’s Final Four. A berth the conference final would be especially sweet for forward Josh Bailey, the longest tenured Islander who was drafted 9th overall back in 2008. This is his 12th season with the Islanders and he’s never been a part of anything like this. But he’s not looking back at what happened during the previous 11 seasons.
He’s focused on what lies ahead on Tuesday night and the rest of this year’s playoffs.
“It’s been fun,” said Bailey who ranks 5th on the Islanders’ all-time games played list with 865. “When you start reflecting on that at this point, I think it’s only going to hurt you. You just keep taking it day by day, make sure you’re prepared physically and mentally, and get ready to go come puck drop and we’re going to have to do that (on Tuesday night).”
Josh Bailey wasn’t even four years old the last time the Islanders made it to a conference final. A lot has happened with the franchise between 1993 and now, but that is irrelevant at this point. For the first time in a long time, 27 years to be exact, the Islanders are on the verge of a chance to play for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
All they need is one more win against the Flyers.