WASHINGTON -- Josh Bailey was one of the first pieces of the New York Islanders' rebuild when he was selected ninth at the 2008 NHL Draft.
It's been a bumpy road for the Islanders for the majority of that stretch, including a 30th-place finish in Bailey's rookie season that allowed New York to select John Tavares with the first pick in 2009.
But with a win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC), the Islanders can finally take a huge step forward.
"People are going to look at it certain ways and spin things different ways, but really we're just focusing on it as a chance to move on to the second round," Bailey said. "It's not been easy to this point and it's not going to be easy tonight. We're not really thinking about anything else other than going in prepared and ready to go for a big Game 7."
After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Islanders won 47 games this season and finished third in the Metropolitan Division. They've had to play this first-round series without defenseman Travis Hamonic, who sustained an undisclosed injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Lubomir Visnovsky, another veteran defenseman, is also out after being hit by Capitals forward Tom Wilson during Game 4. Calvin de Haan was injured in Game 5.
Yet here are the Islanders, surviving to reach Game 7 with a chance to win a playoff series for the first time since 1993.
"I think we just need to win this game," said left wing Matt Martin, a fifth-round pick in 2008. "We want to win the Cup. It's obviously going to be an intense battle and it's been a great series so far, probably one of the more intense series of the playoffs. We've worked hard to get here. Obviously we haven't dealt with the pain and things we've dealt with through this series to come this far and lose. We need to pour everything we have into tonight."
Tavares, the face of the Islanders, had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win against the Capitals in Game 6 to keep the season alive. Given general manager Garth Snow's key acquisitions prior to the start of the regular season (goalie Jaroslav Halak and defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk), a win Monday would help validate all the work that has been done to help the Islanders' resurgence.
"We're trying to move to the second round, I think that's a great opportunity [and] a lot of motivation," Tavares said. "I think our expectations are high. You want to play for the Cup, so this is part of the process and a step towards that. It's up to us to go out there and earn that. Certainly it's been a good season and we don't want it to end."
Here are the projected lineups:
Brock Nelson - John Tavares - Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Nikolay Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Colin McDonald
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Brian Strait
Matt Donovan - Scott Mayfield
Scratched: Anders Lee, Tyler Kennedy, Eric Boulton, Michael Grabner, Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart
Injured: Travis Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky, Calvin de Haan
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera
Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer
Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Matt Niskanen – Karl Alzner
Mike Green – Tim Gleason
Scratched: Justin Peters, Michael Latta
Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery), Eric Fehr (upper body)
Status report: Islanders coach Jack Capuano said none of his injured defensemen would be able to play. … Lee, who had 25 goals during the regular season, is expected to be a healthy scratch for a second straight game.
Who's hot: Tavares leads the Islanders with six points (two goals, four assists). Bailey has two goals and three assists; Leddy has five assists.