The New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Wait, let me try that again.

The New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There. Much better.

After all, this is a huge accomplishment for the team.  It deserves to be shouted from rooftops.  The Islanders weren’t supposed to make the playoffs.  The Islanders weren’t even supposed to finish higher than seventh or eighth in the Metropolitan Division and twenty-fifth or lower in the overall League.  The team was supposed to continue on as the laughingstock of the League like it’s been for some time now.

Instead, the Isles swept the Penguins in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Next, the Islanders face either the Washington Capitals or the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Isles have a long wait until they face either team since, as of last night, the series is tied at 2.  Both teams have won their games on the road, and the series will return to Washington on Saturday for Game 5.  Game 6 in Raleigh will be on Monday, and Game 7 in Washington, if needed, will be on Wednesday.  If the series goes the full distance, the Islanders will be dormant for a full week before they even find out who will advance.  On one hand, this is great news for Boychuk and Clutterbuck, who both left during the second period of the Islanders’ final game against the Penguins.

The Islanders announced early Friday morning that Boychuk will miss 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury, but Clutterbuck’s undisclosed injury seems to have healed itself.  He and Mayfield only needed maintenance days after Game 4.  On the other hand, a week is a long time to do nothing but practice and relax.  The Islanders could very well grow stiff from their bruises gained against Pittsburgh and fall apart in Round 2.

Only time will tell, and rather than worrying about that, fans want to focus on who their team plays next.  Both the Capitals and the Hurricanes are teams that the Islanders have relative success against.  During the regular season, the Islanders and the Capitals split the four games they played against each other, each winning both away games.  The Capitals won by margins of 4-1 and 3-1, and the Islanders won by margins of 2-0 and 3-0.  Washington is the only team that finished higher than the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, with a single point more.  The two teams had very similar records: the same number of wins, but one more overtime loss for the Capitals.

Overall, the Capitals are a solid, consistent team with a long rivalry against the Islanders, from the Easter Epic to the 2014 playoffs, from the Dale Hunter hit on Pierre Turgeon in 1993 to the Tom Wilson hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in 2014.  Rivalry aside, the teams played each other for the last game of the regular season, so recent injuries are fresh in mind, and the Capitals would look to rectify two shutouts at home.  And of course, the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin, one of the most dangerous superstar forwards in the NHL.  Washington is the current championship-defending team, and looks to rise to the challenge Barry Trotz set before them in November, “If want to win again, you have to go through the Island.”

The Hurricanes, in contrast, do not have a long-standing rivalry with the Islanders, and despite having several outstanding players like Sebastian Aho and Justin Williams, there is no stand-out superstar like Ovechkin on the roster either.  Throughout the season, the Islanders found ways to win against them, taking three of the four games.  The first game, the season opener for both teams, went to overtime.  The Islanders won the next two games by margins of 2-1 and 4-1.  Then, the Hurricanes won the last game, but it easily could have gone to overtime if an Islanders’ second-period goal was not returned due to offsides (which was a good call; Filppula was a full stride offside).  These two teams haven’t seen each since early January, so everything they think they know about each other has changed by now.

As the first wild card team, the Hurricanes snuck into the playoffs, edging out the Montreal Canadiens with three points.  Although Carolina began the season with several losing streaks, the team found consistency and became dangerous in January.  The Hurricanes finished the season with four wins in their last five games.  Like the Islanders, they are a very underrated team with a lot to prove, particularly since Don Cherry labeled them the “Bunch of Jerks.”  It’s also noteworthy that this Carolina team has several similarities to the Carolina team that won the Cup in 2006: wild card team, a roster full of underrated players, Rod Brind’Amor’s leadership, etc.

Either way, the Islanders have a very difficult series ahead of them.

Playing the Capitals would make for a very emotional series, whereas playing the Hurricanes would make for a very stubborn series.  The Capitals and the Islanders know each very well, especially because they have been coached by the same man in the last two years.  The Hurricanes and the Islanders are also similar but because they are driven by the same intense motivation and play like they have nothing to lose.

Both possible opponents are gritty, determined teams that can force the Islanders to go the distance of seven games.

Featured Image: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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