Fish Sticks; These aren’t your father’s Islanders (or maybe they are)
The New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to the efforts of Robin Lehner, Jordan Eberle, and a full team effort defensively. You can find a full breakdown of the series here. The Islanders now play the waiting game as they hopefully see the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals beat up on each other for the next few games.
There’s a notion from a large contingent of Islander fans (not all) that the Islanders are now playing with house money. It was mentioned on the Isle Seat Podcast by Mike Carver and it’s a notion that really shouldn’t be the case anymore. The Islanders aren’t playing with house money because they aren’t just happy to be in the second round, they deserve to be here.
They took down a team that had won two of the last three Stanley Cups. Not only did they sweep them but they completely outclassed them. The Islanders had the fifth best record in the league and had 103 points, the most they’ve had since the 1988-89 season. They aren’t just “happy to be here”. They are legitimately one of the best teams in the league and they should be treated as such.
It’s always been the Islanders’ mentality, since the ’93 upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, that they’re the underdog. Even when the great teams of the early ’00s rolled out onto the ice, they weren’t looked upon as favorites. They had some classic series with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs but they could never get to the second round, thus keeping their “scrappy” identity as a team.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Islanders finally got the job done, reaching the second round for the first time since that ’93 series. They beat an upstart Florida Panthers team who shocked the NHL and won the Atlantic Division. The Islanders were one of the Wild Card teams and thus were looked upon as underdogs once again. They were vastly outclassed by a more talented Lightning team in the second round, and quite frankly they got pretty lucky along the way in the first round, getting unconscious goaltending by Thomas Greiss and an unbelievable series out of John Tavares.
The underdog mentality stops now. The Islanders aren’t an underdog story anymore and shouldn’t be treated as such, either by their fans or hockey media. They are a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup and one of the most complete teams this fanbase has been in decades. Sure they could have been looked at as underdogs to start to season as the entire world was against them making the playoffs, but here we are in the second round and they’re still here. It’s not like they snuck in as a Wild Card team. They dominated teams all year long, including wins over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks.
Case in point, they’ve pretty much beat every team that made the playoffs, even though it may not seem that way. They are disciplined in their approach, businesslike in their mentality, taking each game one at a time and not thinking ahead. There was no crazy celebration after their first round win. They were supposed to be here, not the other way around.
It may seem shocking to see the Islanders be this good because it hasn’t happened in a long time. However, they are this good and can beat any team in the league in a seven game series. They proved it when they finished second in the Metro Division, just one point out of first place. They proved it when they dominated the Penguins in a four game sweep. They’ve proved it all year long. Why can’t they just be a great team, not an underdog story?
I guess it comes down to the perception the Islander fanbase and the media has of the Islanders. They see this team and think “How are they this good?” even though they very well know why they’re this good. They ooze professionalism from the top down, starting with Lou Lamoriello. They have a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz who is one of the best minds in hockey. They have an absolute superstar in Mathew Barzal, and a whole cast of characters who play the game of hockey the right way. They also have some of the best leadership in the league, as their captain Anders Lee exemplifies everything it means to be a captain on and off the ice.
This Islander team should be treated as a threat to win it all, not an underdog story. Maybe this is the season where the perception of them starts to change and they’re fairly treated as one of the best teams in the league. After all they’ve been through over the past 20 or so years, there’s no need to hold onto this inferiority complex. The Islanders are a fun team to get behind and a fantastic team in general. It’s time they’re treated as such, by everyone involved.