After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for a large portion of 2014-15 and clinched a berth in the postseason on Thursday.
Additions in goal and on defense, and a captain who is a Hart Trophy candidate are reasons the Islanders' last season at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island was a memorable one. New York's 43-year run there will come to an end this season.
Here are five reasons the Islanders clinched a playoff berth:
1. Upgrades on defense
New York allowed the third-most goals in the NHL last season, so defense was an area that needed to improve. General manager Garth Snow took care of that by trading for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk in separate deals days before the season began.
The two have become the Islanders' top defensive pair, playing against the opponent's top line. New York has allowed two regulation goals or fewer in 38 games this season. Each has added offense too; Boychuk set career highs with eight goals and 35 points, and Leddy has a career-high 10 goals.
Boychuk and Leddy each signed a seven-year contract this season, solidifying the Islanders' blue line going forward.
2. Early season success
New York won 19 of its first 26 games (19-7-0) and began the season 17-4-0 at the Coliseum. Winning at home was problematic in recent seasons; the Islanders had a losing home record in each of the previous four seasons and five of the past six. The 25 home wins are their most since they won 26 in 1984-85.
Home ice in the first round of the playoffs is next on the Islanders' checklist.
"We know what an advantage that could bring for our team with how great our fans have been," captain John Tavares told the Islanders website. "It would be a pretty special atmosphere."
The Islanders have won 13 of 19 games that have gone past regulation. They are 6-1 in overtime and 7-5 in shootouts.
3. John Tavares
His 2013-14 season was cut short after sustaining a knee injury at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This season, he is in the running for the NHL scoring title and is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate as League MVP.
The former No. 1 draft pick is having the best offensive season of his career, with a career-high in goals (36) and points (83).
4. 'The Kid Line'
Coach Jack Capuano made a line early in the season of forwards Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome with rookie Anders Lee, and the three have played together virtually all season.
Lee, 24, has 25 goals, which is tied for second in the League among rookies. Nelson, 23, increased his goal and point output from a year ago; he has 20 goals and 42 points, with half of those goals coming on the power play. Strome, 21, has 17 goals, 50 points and leads the Islanders with a plus-24 rating.
It's long been an issue, but this season it was one of their biggest strengths. Jaroslav Halak set an Islanders record for wins in a season and his 37 wins are a career-high.
Halak (37-17-3, 2.44 goals-against average, .913 save percentage, six shutouts) was acquired in May and signed a four-year contract. He’s been the stabilizing force the Islanders knew he could be. Halak won 11 straight decisions in November and December.