A lot has changed since 2007, the year the New York Islanders made their previous appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A painstaking rebuilding process has since taken place. The plan is finally taking shape with the Islanders, after five straight finishes in the bottom five of the NHL standings, finally back in the postseason.
The quest begins for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship since 1983. Some might think there is no way it can happen. But the opposition would be foolish to take these Islanders lightly.
Start with what transpired at the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Who went on to win the championship? That's right, the Los Angeles Kings, who became the first No. 8 seed to hoist hockey's Holy Grail. The bottom line is this: All you need to do is get in. The Islanders are in.
Any team that plans on winning the Stanley Cup needs solid goaltending. The Islanders have that with Evgeni Nabokov, who got the job done down the stretch and brings plenty of postseason experience to the table, something that will be very beneficial to this young core of players. Nabokov is talented enough to not only steal a game, but a series. Opponents, beware.
More often than not, you need star power at this time of year. The Islanders have that too.
John Tavares is a superstar. The No. 1 pick at the 2009 NHL Draft was born to play at this time of year and is foaming at the mouth for this opportunity. Now that he has this franchise back on the map, everyone is eager to see if he can bring it to another level. He has the skill and he has the drive. That's a lethal combination.
One of the biggest reasons the Islanders missed the playoffs in recent seasons is because they had only one line that could score. That is no longer the case.
The second line of Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo has been creating scoring chances practically every time it's been on the ice over the past month. Michael Grabner, who plays on the third line, finished second on the club with 16 goals. Casey Cizikas has delivered an injection of grit and solid two-way play on the fourth line.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow knew he needed another top-four defenseman going into this season if the playoff drought was going to end. Lubomir Visnovsky has been everything Snow could have hoped for; he's alleviated pressure off captain Mark Streit, particularly on the man advantage. New York boasts a top-10 power play, and special teams are always key in the spring.
This will be coach Jack Capauno's first foray into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he has this team competing at a level we haven't seen since Nolan's tenure. Capuano's favorite term to use with the media is "battle level." One has to believe he will have his players raise it when the puck drops on the postseason.
For these reasons and more, fans shouldn't be surprised if the Islanders find a way to play deep into the spring. It can happen.
Just ask the folks in Los Angeles.