‘There’s no uncertainty now’: Islanders’ culture continues to ascend with 3rd-straight playoff berth in hand

The Islanders return home to the Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 of the #astern Division first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Scribbled amongst the vital information of Barry Trotz’s birth certificate is his hometown, Winnipeg, which is located in Canada’s central province, Manitoba.

Besides the legal ramifications of doctoring a governmental document, you ask any New York Islanders fan about Barry Trotz and they’ll tell you that he has quickly become the quintessential face of a franchise that represents nearly 10 million people over 1,600 miles southwest of Winnipeg.

Trotz — in his third season as the team’s bench boss — and the Islanders clinched their third consecutive playoff berth on Saturday night in yet another convincing display, a 3-0 victory, against the crosstown rival New York Rangers.

And for the third-straight season, the Islanders exceeded expectations as many yet again doubted their pedigree to make it out of the impromptu, stacked Eastern Division that was thrown together by the NHL in 2021 to ensure a geographically safe schedule during the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once again, the Islanders were looked on as afterthoughts behind the likes of the Boston Bruins and their perfection line, the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers and their supposed Vezina-favorite Carter Hart, and Trotz’s former team, the Washington Capitals headed by former Islanders coach, Peter Laviolette.

“Going into it, I really thought there were six legitimate teams going for four spots,” Trotz said following his team’s playoff-clinching win on Saturday night. “I wanted to be one of the four spots, so did our group. So we discussed that at the start and said ‘hey, we’re a good hockey team,’ but we have to know who we are and play to our identity and be consistent.”

That identity has been discussed ad nauseam around the NHL, with descriptions ranging from organized to overly-defensive, to boring.

It’s the Islanders’ modus operandi, though, making up for a roster that doesn’t exhibit an overwhelming arsenal of offensive firepower in a division of teams that have just that.

They’ve allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL behind only the Vegas Golden Knights, riding a third-different goalie platoon in as many years to anchor their success with Semyon Varlamov playing the role of mentor to the highly-touted rookie, Ilya Sorokin.

They’ve overcome the loss of then-leading goal scorer and captain, Anders Lee, to stave off charges by the likes of the Bruins and Rangers to hold onto their playoff perch.

They’ve continued to a play a style of hockey many deem unsustainable at a surprisingly consistent rate, which has been good enough to see them become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference over the last three seasons.

“They dig in,” Trotz said. “This is a really caring group. That’s the Islander DNA today, it’s this group, this building, this fan base, and all the Island represents with this franchise.”

This is the first time since 2002-2004 that the Islanders have made the playoffs three straight times but at a much more stable rate. It makes the dynasty seasons of four-straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1984, and 14-straight playoff appearances between 1975-1988, as this franchise’s only comparison to this level of success.

“It is built on that hard work, never give up attitude which won four Stanley Cups that way with a balance of determination, skill, and will,” Trotz said. “They forged a real legacy for this organization and we would love to get back to that. In this new day and age, that’s almost impossible, but we want to be a team that every year, the Islanders are there, they’re a threat, and when we get in, we want to make sure we go deep.”

With the foundation set by Trotz and Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders are on the right track — especially with even brighter times ahead with their new home, UBS Arena in Elmont, opening its doors this fall.

“When you look at where we are located in the East, going into a great new building, having some success at being a consistent playoff team the last couple years, I think that’s something to build on,” Trotz said. “You have to be excited as a fan base, you have to be excited as a player, and I’m excited as a coach of this team going forward.

“This team has gone through dark days and some uncertainty and all that. There’s no uncertainty now. There’s a great building, we have a great fan base, we’re in a great location, and we have a good, good hockey team. So all that hopefully leads to some success.”

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