The 1992-93 NHL contained 24 teams. In the years between then and now, 23 of those clubs — including four franchises that moved locations — had advanced to the conference finals at least once.
The one that had not, the one that could not make it to a Stanley Cup finals over all that time, well, they’re there now.
Twenty-seven years later, 27 years after David Volek’s Game 7 overtime goal shocked the Penguins and the world, the Islanders have arrived again.
And though the franchise is just 11/19 of the way toward the ultimate objective of capturing the chalice, there is surely something noteworthy to celebrate here. This might have been a businesslike performance within the crucible, but this is hardly business as usual for the franchise to which “Shipwreck” had been a perpetual prefix for much of the last couple of decades.
“A couple of guys, a few guys who have been here for a while, it’s nice to see,” Brock Nelson, an Islander for seven seasons, said following Saturday’s 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Flyers that sends the winners to the Edmonton bubble, where the remainder of the tournament will be held. “It definitely, definitely feels good. Guys put in the work over the years and this year to get it done.”
There will be a step up in class in the Eastern finals against Tampa Bay, which will commence on Monday following Sunday’s cross-continent flight. But the Islanders will hardly be cowed. This one was an example of sheer dominance pretty much from start to finish. The Flyers mustered all of nine shots through the first 40 minutes and finished the night with 21 unblocked attempts and a sum of 12 shots at five-on-five, while the splendid Anders Lee-Mat Barzal-Jordan Eberle combination produced eight even-strength shots itself in 11:27 of ice time.
Thomas Greiss, the nominal backup who replaced Semyon Varlamov after a pair of wobbly performances from No. 40, was excellent when called upon. But the truth is that the Islanders were so superior across the 200×85 playing surface, they could have won this one with Eric Fichaud. And Fichaud is 44 years old and has not played in the NHL since 2000.
“I think we know how we want to play. I think when we’re moving north, being physical, getting in on the forecheck, not being slow because we have a fast team, that’s what we try to do every game,” said Scott Mayfield, who scored the opening goal from the right dot at 9:27 of the first period. “We have our identity and we want to get to that every game.
“We got to our identity pretty much right off the bat and played a full 60.”
There was little give in the Islanders, who allowed nothing for the Flyers to take. This was methodical hockey from the first minute to the last against an opponent that did not come close to responding. Alain Vigneault was a positive influence behind the Philly bench throughout the year, no doubt about that, but the Flyers in this one looked as offensively feeble as Vigneault’s Rangers did in Game 7 of the conference finals against the Lightning in 2015.
We all know where the Islanders have been most of these past two-plus decades. We also know where Lou Lamoriello was most of that stretch in which he was sized for three Stanley Cup rings he and his teams earned in New Jersey. Do you know who the Islanders resembled in this game? They resembled the Devils of 2003, who won a pair of Games 7 along the way to their third Cup in nine years.
Two years for Lamoriello on the Island and four postseason round victories, if you include this year’s qualifier against the Panthers, and why not? Two years since Lamoriello was eased out of Toronto, and zero postseason-round victories for the Buds. Two years since Trotz was eased out of Washington after winning the 2018 Cup, and zero postseason-round victories for the Caps.
“It starts from above. It starts with Lou,” Trotz said. “Lou is a consummate winner. The only thing he cares about is winning.
“He treats people the right way, he gives us everything we need in terms of the assets he can provide. There is a standard we hold each other up to. I think it’s real key when there’s a standard or culture you live by, not that there was a bad culture before, but there is a level we want to achieve.”
The ultimate achievement is eight victories away. But sometimes along the way, you’ve got to stop and smell the roses. This is one of those times for the Islanders.
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