Yes! Yes! Yes!
The New York Islanders have advanced to the Eastern Conference second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
They took the best-of-seven game Eastern Conference first round series against the Florida Panthers 4-2.
This first-round series was arguably the most competitive of the entire league. The physicality between both teams also added to the excitement.
One thing that was evident about the Panthers was their ability to jump on every puck and win battles on the boards. The moment the Isles took possession, there was always a Panther ready to pounce. They didn’t give the Isles any space.
Despite everything, the Isles found a way to win. They will be looking to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since that same season of ‘93.
Next up for the Islanders will be continuing an Eastern Conference second round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders won two of three from the Lightning in the regular season as they split a pair of games at Amalie Arena before defeating the Bolts at Barclays Center in early April.
Game 1 was total domination by the Islanders, who took the opener 5-3. The Islanders put up three goals in the first period alone. Another goal forced the Lightning to switch goaltender Ben Bishop with Andrei Vasilevsky. If the Isles continue to bring the pressure the way they did in Game 1 and hold their leads, they could completely take over the series.
Game 2 saw the opposite scenario for the Islanders. They were completely outplayed by a dominant and fast Lightning team. The Islanders seemed lethargic compared to the home team which took a 4-1 win to even the best-of-seven game series at one game apiece. They were limited to three shots in the third period. This showed that the Isles really need to clean up their game and push for second and third chances rather than just sitting back and watching. No wins are going to come easy in the playoffs.
While on the powerplay, the Isles need to shoot the puck. As the old saying goes, “You can’t score if you don’t shoot.”
The series returned home to Brooklyn after two games on the road. Game 3 showed why a team can never let up in the playoffs. With less than a minute remaining in the third period, the Isles held a 4-3 lead. The Lightning tied the game with 38.4 seconds left and sent the game to overtime. Less than five minutes into the extra period, the Bolts took the win, with a goal from forward Brian Boyle. Before scoring the game-winner, Boyle hit Isles defenseman Thomas Hickey and targeted his head. This was in retaliation for a hard hit Hickey layed upon Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin earlier in the game.
It is hard to say “what if?” but if there was a penalty called on Boyle, the goal would have never happened. If Hickey wasn’t down on the ground in pain, he would have been at the spot by the goal crease to defend Boyle, and stop the game-winning goal from going past Isles’ goaltender Thomas Greiss.
For the first time in this year’s playoffs, the Isles are trailing in a series. An overtime loss at home is tough to swallow, but the Isles need to move on from it. They need to continue to be resilient, an attribute they have shown all season and during the playoffs.
Next up will be a crucial Game 4 in Brooklyn on Friday night.
It is a great thing to see that Islanders captain John Tavares currently is second in the league in playoff points with 11 (six goals, five assists). He netted his sixth goal with a spot-on wrist shot in Game 1. His game-tying goal with less than a minute remaining in the third period and game-winner in double-overtime in Game 6 of the first round is what got his team here in the first place.
Newcomer Shane Prince has also been very clutch for the Isles, as he tallied two goals during the first period of the Game 1 win, increasing his playoff total to three.
Looking ahead at the rest of the series, the Lightning found a way to win and take their first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, without their prolific goal-scoring captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos is pending return as he recovers from surgery to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone. The Lightning are also without defenseman Anton Stralman, a key part to their blueline. He is considered day-to-day with a fibula injury.
The goaltending matchup should continue to be another great one with Greiss squaring off against Bishop. Bishop owns a 19-13 record in 33 career postseason games, including four shutouts.
Tampa has a team that has done well in the playoffs in recent years, including an emotional run and trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. This season, depth could become an issue with many players banged up. Their powerplay has been silent, as they went 4-23 in their first round series. On the other hand, their penalty kill was dominant with a 24-25 success rate. The Bolts have had several legitimate scoring opportunities while shorthanded in all three games thus far. They just may run out of gas this time.
Not many are predicting the Isles to win the series, but this was the case for the Panthers series as well. This series will go at least six games, with the Isles coming out on top. Knowing the Isles are more than capable of beating the Bolts and Bishop is a huge momentum builder.
Winning the first series is only one step of a humongous mountain left to still climb. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all of sports.
With the momentum the Isles had going into the second round, they could steam ahead and take this series as well. However, they cannot get caught up in the moment, take their foot off the gas pedal and only be satisfied with only taking the first-round series. With the desire to finally succeed in the playoffs and ability to pull off three overtime victories in the first round alone, the Isles can certainly go far with their pesky crew. Their determination and passion needs to continue against an opponent with more postseason experience. This is something the fans have been waiting for for a long, long time.