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Islanders motivated by lingering pain of Game 7 loss

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders were one goal away last season from advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1993.

But they fell short in their bid, losing Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference First Round series. The pain is still evident, but the Islanders opened training camp on Friday with optimism and the hope this will be the season when they finally get over the hump.

"I don't think you'll ever get over it," captain John Tavares said. "It was really hard watching the rest of the playoffs and thinking about what could have been, and certainly an opportunity that we missed. Certainly it's a motivating factor and I think it helps you appreciate how hard it is. As good of a regular season we had, we were a point away from having that Game 7 on our home ice.

"It shows each and every day how important and crucial it is, and you really respect and understand what it takes just to even get where we got last year and how much harder it's going to be going forward."

After missing the playoffs in 2013-14, the Islanders bounced back in their final season at Nassau Coliseum, winning 47 games and earning 101 points. They won what turned out to be their last game at the Coliseum in Game 6 to force a decisive game in Washington. But the Islanders mustered all of 11 shots on goal in a 2-1 loss.

The Islanders open their season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Oct. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Once it's over, it's done," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "Obviously it stings for a while. You never really get over something like that; maybe when I retire. You kind of reflect on the year throughout the summer and you have to let it go.

"We need to wipe the slate clean. We had a good season last year, great. But this is a new season. We're looking to improve and to reach new heights."

Several teams in the Metropolitan Division made moves during the offseason in an attempt to improve, highlighted by the Pittsburgh Penguins' acquisition of forward Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets trading for forward Brandon Saad from the Blackhawks.

But the Islanders were rather quiet, other than signing backup goaltender Thomas Greiss. The lack of movement doesn't bother anybody in the dressing room; the players are grateful general manager Garth Snow believes the roster is talented enough as is to win a championship.

"You look from top to bottom, from our team last year to our guys in the minors to a lot of our prospects in junior and college, how deep it is everywhere, just how healthy the organization is," Tavares said. "That shows you can rely on a lot internally. We made a lot of moves last offseason. The ones that have really added to our team are guys right in their prime. It's up to us to take advantage of the opportunity.

"With the way the CBA works, it's hard to make a lot of moves in general. I think when you have a system like we do, you don't have to rely on that. Certainly we want to build on last year and we want to go far. That's the ultimate goal."

The Islanders are counting on their younger players to take another step. Left wing Anders Lee scored 25 goals as a rookie last season, and versatile forward Ryan Strome had 50 points in his first full season in the NHL.

Strome, New York's first-round pick (No. 5) in 2011, said he's eager to build on what he was able to accomplish as a 21-year-old.

"I think if everyone steps up five percent or 10 percent in their game, we're going to be a lot better of a team," Strome said. "Everyone gets better. It's not like we're the only team that's making improvements this year. Every team's getting better and every team is coming for us. But I think we showed last year if we play our game and take care of business, we can beat anyone.

"There's not really a team that pushed us around or really gave us too tough of a time. I think we can stand up to anyone, and we're all looking forward to the season."

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