The New York Islanders are going dancing.
With a dominant execution of 'Islanders' hockey in Saturday night's 3-0 win over the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders officially punched their ticket to the 'Big Dance' at this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I'm really proud of the group, they're a very committed group," Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "They wear the crest on their front, it's the most important thing for this group. They take a lot of pride. This group wanted to get back to winning ways. We did it the first year. Then, in the bubble, we felt we had a really good team and we felt we came in with the right attitude. The same thing with this year coming back. It was a tough turnaround because you had spent a lot of time in quarantine. You battled 20 some extra playoff games and you had to be dialed in. This season has been a long playoff run because of the importance of every game."
Since Trotz took over in 2018, the Islanders have clinched a playoff spot in three-straight seasons, marking the first time since 2002-04 the team has accomplished the feat. With each season, they've identified specific goals for the group on a micro level like disciplined and detailed play and on a larger scale like advancing to the postseason and poising themselves for a deep run.
"We want to be a team that every year, the Islanders are there and are a threat, and when we get in we want to make sure we can go deep," Trotz said. "You look at where we're located in the east, going into a great new building, having some success with being a consistent playoff team the last couple years - I think that's something to build on. You have to be excited as a fanbase, you have to be excited as a player, and I'm excited as a coach of this team going forward. This team has gone through some dark days and some uncertainty, but there's no uncertainty now. There's a great building, we have a great fanbase, we're going to a great location, and we have a good hockey team. All that leads to hopefully some success."
Following last season's run to the Eastern Conference Final - the team's first appearance in the conference finals since 1993 - the Islanders have their sights set on the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, but are focusing on one step a time.
"We go into every season and you have these benchmarks," Trotz said ahead of Saturday's game. "You want to do certain things in your division, have a good record within your division and league wide… Our goal [was] to get to playoffs, No. 1 and finish as high as we possibly can. If we get home ice, that's terrific. That would be our next goal...There's not much separating all the team so you're looking for any advantage you can get."
Not only was Saturday night a crucial and iconic win for the season, but it was a historic moment for the franchise. The game marked the final meeting between the Islanders and Rangers at the 'Old Barn', where the Islanders had won four-straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
It was only fitting that the Islanders closed out their chapter of Islanders-Rangers rivalry at the Coliseum in winning fashion. Saturday's win featured a full and committed team effort as Anthony Beauvillier scored twice, Mathew Barzal converted on a breakaway and Semyon Varlamov was sensational with his seventh shutout of the season on 28 saves, and set a new franchise shutout record at 213:56, and counting.
Video: Varlamov's shutout helps Isles clinch playoff berth
"Tonight we're just going to enjoy it," Barzal said. "It's always exciting to be back in the playoffs. Doing it tonight, against the Rangers and at home is an even better feeling. We're excited as a group. We've got some games here to fine-tune our game before playoffs so that's what we're going to do. But tonight, we're just going to enjoy it. We're excited."
While the Islanders are, deservingly, soaking in the meaningful victory, they know their journey for this year's unique campaign is far from over. With five games remaining in this year's grueling 56-game regular season, the Islanders will look to make the most of them as they try to prime themselves for a hopeful strong and successful postseason run.
"We're not done," Trotz said. "The group wanted to tick this off as getting in the playoffs and then, try and finish as high as we can. Then, in the playoffs, it's a new season."