TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 16: The New York Islanders celebrate the game winning goal by Mathew Barzal #13 against the Washington Capitals during the first overtime period for a 2-1 win in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 16, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders are playing as well as anyone in the NHL, but we’ve all seen this story play out before.

Danny Small

The New York Islanders look like they might be the best team in the NHL right now. After dominating the Florida Panthers in the Qualifying Round, the Isles have upped the intensity against the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Islanders are putting the clamps on Barry Trotz‘s old team and the Caps seem to have no answer in the five-on-five game. New York is the only team that can still sweep its first-round series and Isles fans should feel great about where things are at, right?

Not so fast.

We’ve seen this story before—in 2019, to be exact. The Islanders exorcised playoff demons with a dominating sweep over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. Despite losing John Tavares in free agency, the Isles appeared to be contenders for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 25 years.

But then the Carolina Hurricanes happened. All the good feelings that Isles fans had after the sweep of the Penguins were erased in a flash. The Canes swept the Isles in embarrassing fashion, outscoring New York 13-5 in a series that was completely one-sided.

No Islander skater finished the series with a positive plus-minus and the worst culprits on the team were some of the biggest stars—Mathew Barzal (-4), Nick Leddy (-4), Devon Toews (-5), Ryan Pulock (-5), and Anders Lee (-6).

A sweep of the Capitals, or a series win in general, will give the Isles serious momentum going into the next round, but last year’s sweep against Carolina will still be in the back of every Isles fan’s mind.

Why This Year Might Be Different

Last year’s playoff disappointment still stings for the Isles. Having that experience will benefit the team as it prepares to go further than they’ve gone in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in almost 30 years.

Moreover, the Islanders seem to be adjusting to the new normal of playoff hockey as well as anyone. The swings in momentum that come with playing in a hostile environment are no longer there and the Isles have been excellent at manufacturing their own push with extended possessions in the offensive zone.

But more than experience and environment, the development of the youth is the biggest reason why this year might be different. Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, Anthony Beauvillier, Devon Toews and Adam Pelech are playing some of the best hockey in their NHL careers—certainly the best they’ve ever played in the postseason.

Anders Lee and Brock Nelson were once young players who struggled to find their footing in the playoffs, but this year they look like grizzled veterans who can withstand the pressure of postseason hockey.

After two (mostly) full seasons in Trotz’s system, the entire team looks more comfortable as a unit. They have an identity.

This year might be different, but Isles fans know to expect the worst and hope for the best when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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