Whether you're a casual fan, or a die-hard, the lifting of the Stanley Cup is an enduring and an iconic visual in hockey, as the newly crowned champions gather around center ice. Standing in unison, with evidently exhausted and untamed bearded-faces that pair with their sweat and blood-stained jerseys - sure indicators of an excruciating battle - they one-by-one euphorically lift the coveted Cup.
It's a picturesque sight and for hockey players and it's the reason they play. All of the sacrifices made throughout their journeys, shuffling from tournament to tournament, playing mini sticks in the basement or pond hockey in the frigid winters, grinding through an 82-game regular season, it's all out of inspiration for the hope that maybe someday they'll get to experience the triumph of winning the Cup.
Any opportunity for that moment is one worth relishing in. And after over four months without hockey due to the international COVID-19 outbreak, the 24 NHL teams who reached the postseason aren't taking this chance for granted.
"This is the fun time to play hockey," Jordan Eberle said during Training Camp. "You talk to any kid and you dream of playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that's what it's all about. When you score a goal it's just that much more amplified when you're playing towards winning a Cup. These are the moments you want to show up for."
For the New York Islanders, they're ravenous to play meaningful hockey and make a run for The Cup. Their journey begins with a best-of-five Qualifying Series against the Florida Panthers, starting on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Of the current roster only Head Coach Barry Trotz, Johnny Boychuk, Tom Kuhnhackl (twice), Andrew Ladd (twice) and Nick Leddy have hoisted the Cup prior to joining the Isles. All of whom are able to provide valuable insight from their successes.
"You try to enjoy this as much as possible," Leddy said via Zoom. "It's such a fun time for teammates, myself, just to see how much we've grown as a team and as a person. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs, but how you come out of those downs and keep pushing on the ups."
While Trotz, Boychuk, Kuhnhackl, Ladd and Leddy have rings, the Isles have plenty of veteran leadership to also lean on. In circumstances as strange as 2020, the experience and consistent unity within the team could be a decisive factor in who wins this year's Stanley Cup.
For the oldest player on the Isles roster, and former captain of the New Jersey Devils, Andy Greene, this isn't an opportunity he's taking lightly. In 2012, Greene and the Devils advanced to the Stanley Cup Final where they eventually lost 4-2 to Los Angeles. He's only advanced to the postseason once since 2012 and knows all too well the cruel reality of how few and far in between these precious chances can be.
"Every shift counts and every shift is important," Greene said. "It's just amazing what happens in playoff hockey. From my past experiences, once you get to [the postseason], it's about momentum from game-to-game and inside the game, shift-to-shift. There's pivotal moments throughout the games and series that really shifts momentum your way or it goes the other way."
With games' outcomes riding on a nearly unhinged pendulum of momentum that can seemingly inflict betrayal at moment's notice, the Isles understand the importance of focusing on the things they can control.
For a veteran with plenty of experience at this stage of competition like Derick Brassard, who will make his 100th postseason appearance on Saturday, he's been fortunate to have delayed his offseasons for seven-straight seasons.
Throughout his playoff runs, which featured a 2014 Stanley Cup Final loss to Los Angeles (4-1) and two Eastern Conference Final exits (2015 and 2017), Brassard has gained valuable takeaways; like how critical roster depth can be down the stretch - an area the Isles are fortunate to have an abundance of.
"[During] my experience before in the playoffs it takes many more than the guys who are going to be dressing [in Game 1]," Brassard said. "It's going to take some guys that are maybe not going to play, but we have full trust in anyone to come in and play in our lineup."
"We're trying to put our best foot forward to beat the Florida Panthers and trying to get a shot to win the Stanley Cup," Brassard continued. "Once the puck is going to be dropped on Saturday, we're just going to be trying to play our game. We know what to do to be successful."
On the flip side, the Isles' youth were exposed to their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs during last year's trip to the second round. While eight games is a small sample size, it was enough to reaffirm their career goals.
"[Having] played two rounds I know that [there's] so much emotions in every game," Anthony Beauvillier said. "You know you're never going to hit a home run every shift, but it's just about grinding it out and making sure you set up your next shift with a good one and making sure you do the right things. It's fun hockey. Everyone is dialed in and willing to do whatever it takes to win."
For a sponge like Noah Dobson, who's rookie season has felt like an eternity since making the team last September, it's surreal to be competing for a Cup at 20-years-old.
"Obviously, as a kid you grow up watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Dobson said. "It's the best time of year and the games are all exciting. This year is a little different with no fans, but I'm just excited to see what it's all about, to learn from it and to continue to grow."
As the 2019-20 postseason officially gets underway on Aug. 1, there will be 24 well-rested teams that will be ready to feud for Lord Stanley. In staying true to hockey playoff traditions, the iconic beards will begin their evolution as each team fiercely deploys for battle.
With do-or-die situations and a Cup on in sight, the intensity is sure to skyrocket. But no matter how harsh the exchanges transpire, at their core, they're all just a bunch of kids at heart competing to turn a childhood dream into a reality.
"There's still a Stanley Cup on the line, and that's essentially why we all play this game," Matt Martin said. "It's going to be different than anything we've ever experienced, but hopefully we perform well and figure it out as we go."