To Anders Lee, Tuesday night felt akin to Christmas Eve, as the anticipation built towards Wednesday's playoff opener against Pittsburgh.
There's one key difference though, Christmas comes around every year. The Stanley Cup Playoffs do not - and Lee has learned that the hard way.
"I had an unfortunate break in game 80 last time around," Lee said. "I missed out on that  run. Then, the next two years you're not in the playoffs. So, you don't want to take things like that for granted. The opportunity to play after the regular season is what you play for all year long, so you've got to take advantage of it."
Lee missed the Islanders last playoff run in 2016 after he sustained a broken fibula after taking an errant shot from teammate Johnny Boychuk. The Isles advanced past Florida winning the series 4-2, but their run halted to the second round to the hands of Tampa 4-1, just shy of Lee returning.
Video: This Is What We Play For
"It was tough to not have him in the lineup that last time around," Brock Nelson said. "You don't want to see any one of your guys go down especially not at that point in the season. You feel for him…[Now] I think he's matured in his game for us. Obviously, he's scored a lot of goals, a lot of big goals in key times. It's a guy we lean on offensively and in the room. He's stepped up obviously, given the captain and the letter. I think he's even taken another step forward with that just in terms of his maturity and leadership. It's a big piece for us to have."
Missing the playoffs the last two seasons hasn't sat well with Lee or the Islanders, who underwent vast structural changes in the offseason. Despite posting a career-best during last season with 40 goals and 62 points last year, Lee was eager to turn the page this season. The 28-year-old was appointed as the 15th captain in Islanders history and embraced a new, defensive-minded system employed by Barry Trotz.
Fast forward seven months, and the Islanders have locked down a second-place finish in the Metro Division and are hosting game one of a first round series for the first time since 1988. Lee is planning to soak in the experience, all the flashy spectacles, sacred traditions, and amusing antics of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Especially after the grind of the grueling 82-game regular season.
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"It's been a long time coming," Lee said. "This is the fun part of the year. This is what you play for. This is why we all want to play hockey; to try and make a run at the Cup and go win one. Your career goes by pretty quickly. You only have so many opportunities. I think as time goes on, you grow as a player and as a person. So, when you have one like this it's just another chance at it. It just means that much more."
Lee's playoff experience is limited in comparison to a resume like the Penguins, but the 6-foot-3, 231-pound left-winger isn't concerned about his impact in the upcoming high-stake scenarios. Lee has already established himself as a dominant force around the net front and excelled alongside the astute playmaking capabilities of his line mates Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal. Lee led the Islanders with 28 goals and was fourth on the Isles leaderboard this season with 51 points.
"It's still hockey at the end of the day," Lee said. "I've played in the playoffs before. I understand how it all amps up. That's what I love to do. I've got the body for it and try to go out there and work hard and do everything I can. I'm not nervous in that regard."
The power forward last had a taste of the postseason in 2015 during his rookie season, but returns to the playoffs as the Islanders captain. While Lee has grown as a player and a leader, but the bigger picture promulgates the reality that the season's success is a reflection of the commitment and accountability that the entire Islanders team has bought into as a collective whole.
"I think anytime you make the playoffs it's a special time," Lee said. "I think it's special [this year] after the season we had last year or the year before and what's gone on and what's transpired. I think as a group we've all done a good job of looking in the mirror and figuring out what we need to do. Not only individually, but as a team and for each other. We've all bought into everything that has been sold to us on how it's going to take to get here. It is special. It's an opportunity. We're all excited for it and that starts with game one [today]."