With chance to compete in postseason, Islanders must make most of it

Hudson Fasching Islanders
New York Islanders’ Hudson Fasching (20) smiles after a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

ELMONT, N.Y. — The Islanders didn’t make it easy on themselves to secure a playoff spot. Even in the final frame of the clinching win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, there was still a feeling of uneasiness. 

But the Islanders booked their ticket to the postseason, UBS Arena will finally host Stanley Cup Playoff Games, and after a one-year absence, playoff hockey is back on Long Island. It was far from pretty to get to the point where fans at UBS Arena were confidently chanting “WE WANT PLAYOFFS” but after 82 games, here we are.

Still, the way the Islanders got to this point — needing just one point in their season finale to reach the postseason — they need to prove that they can do more with the opportunity than just give their first-round opponent a battle. While the Islanders came away with the win over the Habs, they owe a large debt of gratitude to the Chicago Blackhawks who knocked around the Pittsburgh Penguins to give them back the chance to control their own playoff destiny.

They also should thank the Penguins for failing to take advantage after the Islanders’ devastating loss to the Washington Capitals earlier in the week.  But more than anything, the Islanders need to use the opportunity they’ve been presented. 

“I think we have something to prove in the sense that let’s gonna make something happen,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We’re not just, you know, happy we got in and anything like that. That’s not the mindset of this group. We’re looking to go do something, but it’s a long road. It starts in the first series in game one, and whoever that may be. I think we’re all very excited to play it.”

The Islanders will face the Carolina Hurricanes or the Boston Bruins, depending on how the final game of the regular season shakes out. Neither team will be easy, with the Bruins steamrolling clubs across the NHL and the Hurricanes have been the Isles’ white whale taking nine of their last 11 meetings. 

The Islanders have turned lemons into lemonade this season after a roller coaster ride of a rookie coaching campaign for Lane Lambert. The Isles won just four games in the month of January before going 17-9-4 in the second half of the season all while dealing with the loss of their star player Mathew Barzal. 

“You always look back at moments in the season,” Zach Parise said. “I almost feel as if we potentially got written off a little bit when Barzy went down. And we rallied and we put together a pretty good record from then on to put ourselves in this spot. I’m sure you could point to a lot of different times in the season that got us here. But here we are.”

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin on Monday and the Islanders will be there with the other seven Eastern Conference teams that qualified for this year’s tournament, but they should have a chip on their shoulders that the others don’t. The Islanders were given a gift in getting the chance to control their postseason destiny and if the Islanders can find a way to make something happen in the playoffs it will have a bit of a Hollywood feel.

There’s a moment at the end of the 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks’ character looks up at Matt Damon’s character and tells him to “earn this” as he prepares to get sent home from the battlefield. In a small way, the Penguins should be saying the same thing to the Islanders. 

Earn this trip to the playoffs. 

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com