Barry Trotz won the Stanley Cup two years ago with a star-studded Capitals roster. Now he has sent them home early with a largely unheralded roster that embodies the team.
The Islanders, who learned they will be playing the Flyers in the next round after Philadelphia eliminated the Canadiens on Friday, have certainly gotten some star-worthy efforts along the way from young forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, but they are onto the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs because of how they have played as a group up and down the lineup.
“I think we did a great job as a team,” defenseman Adam Pelech said after the Islanders finished off the series Thursday night with a 4-0 win over the Capitals in Game 5. “It takes everyone. It takes the forwards, it takes the defensemen and great goaltending to limit a team like that’s offense.”
It is the second straight year Trotz has guided the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs after taking over a group that had missed the playoffs in back-to-back years and just lost its biggest star in John Tavares. The last time the Islanders won a playoff series in back-to-back years came in 1984 and 1985 — the tail end of the franchise’s dynasty.
Last year’s playoff run ended when the Islanders got swept by the Hurricanes in the second round. This time around — after handling the Panthers in the Stanley Cup qualifier and then dismantling the Capitals in the first round — they appear primed to have a better shot in the second round as they spent Friday off.
“People don’t recognize how tough it is to make the playoffs,” Trotz said. “That first round, to get through it is extremely tough. We’ve sort of done two of them already in this new format. It speaks a lot about our group. They have good focus, they understand how you have to play and how intense and how disciplined and how focused and how committed you have to be to have any success. They’ve been able to do that.
“That’s good on the leadership group. It starts at the top with [general manager Lou Lamoriello], right down to our players and our leadership of Anders Lee and [Josh] Bailey and [Johnny] Boychuk and people like that. Then you see the growth of some of our younger players, like a Beauvillier and a Barzal and a guy like Brock Nelson, who doesn’t get enough credit around the league.. … It’s a team effort. Then you add in some pieces like an Andy Greene, [who] has fit in really well, and a [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau. It just sort of balances everything out.”
Trotz went to the postseason all four years he was with the Capitals before they finally capped off his tenure in Washington with a Stanley Cup in 2018. They did so with big names like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie racking up the points, John Carlson leading the blue line and Braden Holtby locking it down in net.
At least outside of Long Island, the Islanders may not appear to pack the same punch with Beauvillier, Barzal, Nelson and Bailey providing the points, Pelech and Ryan Pulock handling top defensive-pair duties and Semyon Varlamov coming through in net. But all the way through the lineup, they have bought into Trotz’s system and are reaping the rewards once again.
“When we step on the ice, everybody knows what they’re doing,” Varlamov said. “We believe in that structure and we believe in our coaching staff.”
With his old team now in the rearview mirror, Trotz is back to chasing the same goal.
“I had so much invested with that group of core players. I can’t tell you how much they mean to me,” he said. “I’m trying to have those same relationships with my group and hopefully we can share something special.”