Islanders in Familiar Spot Facing Elimination

The New York Islanders found themselves facing elimination ahead of Game 5 of their opening-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Much like they have all season, they found a way to get it done with a 3-2 win forcing a Game 6 at the UBS Arena on Friday night (April 28). While trailing in the series and entering the game with the possibility of elimination is never a good look, the Islanders are no stranger to having their season hanging in the balance. In fact, you could say they have grown comfortable in the position as they were forced to battle to the bitter end of the regular season in order to clinch a playoff berth.

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Islanders in Familiar Position Facing Elimination

The Islanders have faced many challenges and battled through adversity all season, and entering Game 6 on Friday will be no different. However, time and time again, they’ve been able to answer the bell. They’ve dealt with their share of key injuries to vital pieces of their roster throughout the campaign. Injuries to players such as veteran forward Kyle Palmieri, top defenceman Adam Pelech, and leading scorer Mathew Barzal made the Islanders’ playoff hopes look bleak. But they found a way. Nothing was able to stop the club from making their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason one year ago.

Mat Barzal New York Islanders
Mat Barzal, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On Jan. 30, Islanders’ GM Lou Lamoriello traded for star forward Bo Horvat. At the time, the club found themselves sitting outside of the playoff picture with a 25-22-5 record. In addition, Barzal sustained a lower-body injury on Feb. 18, just seven games after they had acquired Horvat. Still, they trudged on, refusing to give up on their hope of returning to the playoffs. The addition of Horvat can be looked at as the turning point of their season, as they went on to post a 17-9-4 record following the trade. In their final regular season game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Islanders became the final team to clinch a playoff berth and also ended the Pittsburgh Penguins’ run of 16 consecutive playoff appearances.

Islanders Won’t Crack as Pressure Mounts on Hurricanes

When looking back at the Islanders’ most recent playoff run during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were just one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984. In the first round against the Penguins, they dropped Games 2 and 3 before winning three straight to finish the series in six games. The series win set up a meeting with the Boston Bruins in the second round, and once again, the Islanders trailed the series 2-1 after three games. They then pulled off three straight victories over the Bruins to advance to the Eastern Conference Final (semifinal during the COVID-19-shortened season). Finally, they forced the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games with a huge 3-2 overtime win in Game 6. They ultimately came up short, losing Game 7 1-0, and the Lightning went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Related: Islanders’ Barzal Is Finding Scoring Touch at the Right Time

Although they didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final, the experience gained during that run remains within the current group and will be crucial in their attempt to complete the comeback against the Hurricanes. If anything, by this point, the Islanders have built a tolerance and will be unphased by the pressures they face entering Game 6. In fact, while playing in front of their home crowd with essentially nothing to lose, the pressure has now swung more onto the Hurricanes. Despite the Hurricanes jumping out to a 3-1 lead, the series could have had a very different outlook, as three out of the five games have been tightly contested one-goal games. This series is far from over.

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Islanders Resiliency & Home Crowd Will Provide Huge Boost

Contrary to what analytics tell us about the series, the Islanders’ resiliency may triumph over any stat line. They are like an itch you just can’t scratch, as the persistent and pesky Islanders just keep finding a way to extend their season. On top of that resiliency, playing in front of their fans can play a factor in the outcome of Game 6. Players thrive and feed off the energy of their home arenas, and while the Islanders’ new home at UBS Arena is vastly different from the old Nassau Coliseum, it is still a very loud building, and the Isles’ faithful will create a raucous environment for the Hurricanes to play in. The Islanders’ players and fans alike should enter the contest not full of nerves and thoughts of elimination, but instead full of energy and enjoy the possibility of overcoming yet another hurdle in their season.