This past season Islanders reached a point that 27 other teams in the National Hockey League had wished they could be at and that was being in the NHL’s Final Four. Following the restart from the COVID-19 forced suspension of the season, the Islanders enjoyed a magical run through the postseason bubble in Toronto beating the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round, the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs, and then the Philadelphia Flyers in round two to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.
That’s where the run ended as the Islanders fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning four games to two losing game six in overtime. The Islanders were two wins, just a couple of goals or breaks when you really think about it, away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final and they were six wins away from the fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
So now that the off-season is here, what’s the biggest challenge for the Islanders? Getting those final six wins or returning to the point where they left off?
“It will be getting back there,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee during a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. “I don’t think we felt that distance of those extra six wins was very great. You get to that point in the season and its such a fine line. The separation between teams, and Tampa was extremely deserving, it’s tight.”
Islanders Have Some Work To Do:
After coming up a bit short in their quest for the Stanley Cup, the Islanders are trying to keep as much of their group together although last week they did trade defenseman Devon Toews to Colorado for a pair of second round draft picks. Toews was a restricted free agent heading to arbitration and with 2018 first round pick Noah Dobson ready to assume a regular role on the blueline, the Islanders felt it was the right thing to do from a hockey and financial standpoint.
The Islanders still have to sign RFA’s Mat Barzal and Ryan Pulock but they also have to try and create some more cap room in order to do that as well as to make some other moves to try and improve the roster that was probably a better power play away from playing for Lord Stanley. The Eastern Conference as a whole, as well as the Metropolitan Division that the Islanders are in, will be extremely competitive next season and now the Islanders have a lot of work to do just to get back to the point where they just found themselves.
“Getting to that point and giving yourself the opportunity,” said Lee. “The teams that we overcame and all the stuff that has to go right in the previous two rounds and the play-in round as well, there’s a lot of work and stuff to get to that point.”
Islanders Waiting To Find Out When They Can Start Climbing The Mountain Again:
It’s still not clear when the NHL will begin the 2020-21 season although Commissioner Gary Bettman says the target date is January first. There’s also plenty of uncertainty, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, just how next season will look. Will it be a full 82 game regular season or will there be something like a 60-game season? How will the divisions look? If the Canadian/United States border remains closed, there could be an all-Canadian division and then American divisions that are more geographical to make travel easier.
But the Islanders proved this past season that they could overcome adversity to make a serious run at a championship and now they are eager to get back to work and finish what they started.
“You got a full regular season and two rounds and you find yourself in a game six in the Eastern Conference Final,” said Lee. “So, it’s a long road regardless and now that we as a group accomplished a decent amount of it, it excites you to get back to that spot. That’s for sure.”
There’s a lot of excitement around the Islanders these days coming off the playoff run along with the ongoing construction of UBS Arena at Belmont Park and the potential to make some more moves during the off-season that could get the Islanders closer to their ultimate goal.
The Islanders were six wins away from the Stanley Cup, but now the challenge is climbing the mountain again, qualifying for the playoffs, and getting back to the Eastern Conference Final where the hope is to find a way to win six more games. The hardest part will be the journey through the regular season and duplicating the first ten wins of the post-season.