Expectations were high for the New York Islanders last fall. They had won 47 games in 2014-15, were moving into a modern facility and were ready to see some younger players take the next step.
There have been some bumps along the road, somewhat expected over the course of an 82-game season, but the Islanders have done enough to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons.
Here are five reasons the Islanders clinched:
1. Home cooking
There was obviously some uncertainty regarding how the Islanders would fare in their first season at Barclays Center after 43 years at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. But from a results standpoint, the move has undoubtedly been a success. With their 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, the Islanders are 25-10-4 in Brooklyn.
2. Goaltending depth
There wasn't much insurance behind No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak last season, but general manager Garth Snow shored that up with the signing of Thomas Greiss, who may have exceeded expectations. Greiss was arguably the Islanders' most valuable player during the first half of the season and will likely get the call in Game 1 of the postseason while Halak recovers from a lower-body injury sustained March 8. Greiss has started 36 games and has won 22 of them, both career-highs, to go along with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
3. Last hurrahs?
The season is nearly over and two key forwards on the Islanders roster, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, have not agreed to contracts for 2016-17 and beyond. Nielsen, their best two-way player, was drafted by the Islanders in 2002 and has played more than 600 NHL games, all with New York. Okposo, one of their most consistent forwards this season, was their first-round pick in 2006 and is second on the team with 62 points in 77 games. It's hard to imagine where the Islanders would be without either player this season.
Hamonic, perhaps their most reliable defenseman, is lost for the remainder of the regular season and potentially longer after sustaining a lower-body injury in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 31. But his ability to play at each end of the ice, despite whatever his personal issue is back in his native Winnipeg (he requested a trade prior to the season), led to Hamonic's most impressive season yet; he has 21 points in 72 games and leads the Islanders with an average of 23:49 of ice time per game.
"It's always tough, you know how much he wants to be a part of the stretch here and trying to get into the playoffs," captain John Tavares told the Islanders website. "We obviously hope he'll be back soon. Everyone just has to step up and fill the void. It's hard to replace a guy like him, but certainly we have guys that are very capable of playing more minutes and expanding their role."
5. The fourth line
Regarded by many as the best in the League, the trio of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck combine the ability to wreak havoc and contribute offensively.
Clutterbuck has 15 goals, including five game-winners. Cizikas has a career-high 27 points and continues to play a major role on the penalty kill. Martin, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, leads the NHL with 362 hits.