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The Islanders can still feel the sting three months later from their Game 6 overtime loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Lightning, in the conference final last season.
It’s biting — and lingering.
And ahead of the Islanders’ first on-ice session of training camp Monday, the disappointment from the collapse of their longest playoff run in 27 years was on full display.
“I have not gotten over the loss from the Lightning,” head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday. “I don’t think you get over those things very easily, if you do, there’s a problem. You park it. Trust me, you don’t lose it, you just have to park it and move on.
“On my deathbed, that’ll be one of the visions that will go through my head: We didn’t beat the Lightning. And it doesn’t go away.”
In his third season with the Isles, Trotz said the coaching staff has tried to raise the organization’s expectations from year-to-year. After reaching last year’s conference finals as the only club that competed in the initial play-in series, the Islanders have done just that.
According to Trotz, last season’s playoff run confirmed that the Islanders are a committed group with a legitimate chance to contend for the Stanley Cup.
“But we didn’t win the Cup, so we’re not happy,” he said.
What the Islanders’ playoff run last season did give them was experience. Not just experience in the postseason, but experience with coming into training camp amid the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and after an unusual period of time off the ice.
The Islanders played their last game of the 2019-20 season on Sept. 17 and had a three-month layoff to recuperate and get back into shape for training camp, which will last just 10 days. They then open up the regular season with back-to-back matchups against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16.
“I think before the bubble this summer, as a group, as players, I think we did a phenomenal job of preparing ourselves,” captain Anders Lee said on a Zoom call Monday. “We came into that camp in pretty good shape. Obviously, Barry puts his touch on it and forces us to be in better shape, but I think that kind of mentality definitely carried over to this one.
“You knew right away it’s going to be a 10-day camp and we’re playing games in 13 days and there’s really no time to break your body in or the little things. You really had to come into this camp really ready to go.”
While the first on-ice session was dedicated primarily to getting their legs back underneath them while working on some defensive-zone drills and conditioning, the Islanders haven’t had to worry about getting back into the competitive mindset.
It hasn’t gone away since Sept. 17.
“When you have a run like that, I think it’s always disappointing to have it end in any way,” Lee said. “But the step we took was inspiring in a way too, and extremely motivational. I think it’s a combination of us working toward that final step and at the same time building off of the end of last year.”