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Five Games That Shaped The Islanders Season looks back at five games that shaped the Isles identity and vaulted the team forward in 2018-19

by Cory Wright WrightsWay /

The 2018-19 Islanders season has even exceeded the expectations of President/GM Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz. The Isles went from 31st to first in goals against in one season, en route to their first playoff berth in three seasons. It was a collective effort, with the Isles buying into a full-team, defensive identity, comfortable grinding out one-goal wins and low-scoring games. looked back at some of the games that helped shape the Islanders season. All 47 wins were important, but which ones stood out as some of the biggest? Which ones brought the team together, shaped their identity, or vaulted them forward as a group?

With insights from the players themselves, a look back at five of those contests. 

Video: Isles score three unanswered goals to top Red Wings


The Islanders felt a collective gut punch when Nicklas Kronwall caught Anders Lee with a high hit in the first period of team's first meeting in Detroit, bloodying up the Isles captain. Trailing 2-0 at the time, the hit galvanized the Islanders, who responded physically, before roaring back for a 3-2 comeback win. 

It was a visceral game, and Trotz said it was one of those games that helps bring a locker room closer. 

"The hit on Leesy, that absolutely galvanized us," Trotz said when the team returned to Detroit in March. "That moment was critical for us to come together as a team. It's another one of those pieces that you need to have good team success."

Video: Barzal lifts Islanders to win with natural hat trick


Playing on the road and under the spotlight of Hockey Night in Canada, the Islanders shut out one of the league's most potent offensive teams on Dec. 29. Mathew Barzal scored a natural hat trick in the second period to provide the offense, but defensively, the Isles proved to themselves that their team-wide structure and all-in commitment could bottle up high-octane teams. 

"Everyone was writing us off and Toronto was praised as one of the best teams in the league from the beginning of the year," said Robin Lehner, who pitched a 36-save shutout. "We just went up there and had a hell of a defensive effort."

The Dec. 29 game wasn't a one-off either. The Isles beat the Leafs 6-1 on Feb. 28 and while they lost the final meeting 2-1 on April 1, the Islanders held the fourth highest-scoring team in hockey to three goals in three games this season. 

"Those types of games, it kept showing us players that our game is working," Lehner said. "After games like that, we tend to gain a little confidence and go on a bit of a run because we realize this is the way we should play and we keep playing like that. It's an eye-opening game."

Video: Isles use fast start to defeat Lightning, 5-1


The Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the regular season, making them the measuring stick for the rest of the league. 

It's the old Ric Flair adage - to be the man, you've got to beat the man - and the Isles have played the Lightning tough this season, tougher than their 1-1-1 record would indicate. 

The Isles beat the Lightning 5-1 on Jan. 13 at Barclays Center, lost 1-0 in a shootout on Feb. 1 at NYCB Live and were tied 2-2 with 90 seconds to go in a 4-2 loss on Nov. 8. Holding the Lightning to one regulation goal in two home meetings - the Isles were also the first team to shut out the Lightning - furthered the belief in the team's defensive structure, as well as their ability to rise to the occasion. A little confidence against the league's boogeyman doesn't hurt either.  

"That was just confidence for us, playing some of the best teams in the league and shutting them down," Matt Martin said of the win over Tampa, as well as two vs Toronto. "And not only shutting them down, but controlling the majority of the game. I think that propelled us to understand how good we can be and how we can play against anybody."

Video: Islanders shut out Capitals in Trotz's return, 2-0


Barry Trotz was a full-fledged Islander when he returned to Washington DC for the first time - and by mid-January the Isles were a full-fledged Trotz-style team. 

They shut out the Caps 2-0 on the second night of a back-to-back, holding the reigning Cup champs to 19 shots, vaulting to the top of the Metro Division in the process. 

"It's one of those games where we forged a little bit of an identity," Trotz said in January. "We stayed to it, we didn't deviate. We talk about being a really good team and not just a group of players, but becoming a real good team."

Video: NYI@WPG: Eberle, Cizikas rally Islanders to win


After a 23-7-3 run from mid-December to February, the Islanders found themselves playing .500 hockey in March. 

Fresh off a 4-0 shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets - their third shutout loss in five games - the Isles found themselves trailing from the 13-second mark against the Central Division leading Jets. 

They trailed 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2, the Isles kept chipping away at the Jets, rallying for three third period goals, including two in the final two minutes, for a 5-4 win. It was an enormous win for the psyche of the team, their place in the standings and seemingly carried into Saturday's 5-1 playoff-clinching win over the Buffalo Sabres. 

"Just what was on the line and how we found a way to stick with it against a good team and come around and win that game, it was big for momentum and obviously big in the standings," said Ryan Pulock, who had three assists in the win.

Pulock added that overcoming in-game adversity is good practice for the postseason. 

"When you come into playoffs, things aren't always going to go exactly how you want them to," Pulock said. "Sometimes you're going to be down and you're going to need that extra push late in games to get it tied or win it. It's good to be in those situations now to prepare for later on."  

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