By Lenn Robbins
Favorite Stepson No.1, who loves all things Boston, came down from the Cape Wednesday and I knew what was coming. A New Englanders twist on the Islanders-Bruins series.
To recap, he claimed, accurately I might add, that the B’s have the best line in hockey, a terrific second line, some terrific defenders, and an excellent goalie.
So, why, I asked, did the pride of Long Island go into Game 6 of the series leading 3-2 and looking to close out in The Coliseum.
“You have Trotz,” he said.
“That’s it,” I asked.
“Well that GM Lou guy must be pretty good.”
And therein, with all due respect to the players, is the No.1 reason why the Islanders advanced to the Eastern Conference for the second straight year Wednesday night with a 6-2 win. Coach Barry Trotz and president of hockey operations, Lou Lamoriello, neither of whom played a minute in an NHL game.
The task gets tougher as the Islanders will face the defending champion Lightning, the team that ended their 2020 season.
Coach Barry Trotz, of course, is the more recognizable of the two. He’s the man behind the bench; the man with the bald, ball-peen hammer head, mounted on marble statue base, has clearly established himself as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all time.
He ended the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup drought in 2018 by getting one of the game’s all-time greatest players, Alex Ovechkin, to buy in just enough to his system to win his first Cup. It also was Trotz’s first Cup after 19 seasons of often getting thisclose.
That Lou guy, who brought three Cups to the New Jersey Devils and coached his alma mater, Providence, to an NCAA title among other accomplishments, should have his bust on the Mount Rushmore of brilliant hockey minds.
Former Calgary Flames president of operations, Brian Burke, said the Devils were the best-run franchise in pro sports, not just hockey.
Of course, sometimes, it helps to be lucky and good. Lamoriello should never have had the chance to hire Trotz. The Capitals opted to play Team Frugal with their Stanley Cup-winning coach and Trotz resigned.
Lamoriello was hired by the Islanders on May 22, 2018. He hired Trotz almost one month to the day later, and it was if a beautiful breeze had blown in off the Long Island Sound, the same breeze that filled the Islanders sails from 1979-83 when they won back-to-back-to-back-to-back Cups.
After not making the playoffs and finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division in 2017-18, Trotz led the Islanders to a second-place finish and the Islanders won their first-round playoff series the next year. Last year they got to the conference finals.
This year has been a study in partnership. When the Islanders lost captain Anders Lee for the season in mid-March with an ACL injury, Lamoriello swung a deal for former Devils Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. Zajac scored the first Islanders goal and Palmieri scored the fourth.
The Islanders did what they do. They hit the Bruins and then hit them some more. The Islanders lead the playoffs in hits. They took away the middle of the ice by playing the passing lanes and blocking shots.
This is known as the Islanders’ system, pretty smart, basic hockey although they’re so good at it The System has taken on an almost mythical Rurik’s Cube status.
The Islanders again will be the underdogs against the Lightning, just as they were underdogs in their first two series against the Penguins and Bruins. The Lightning have some of the best talent in hockey.
The Islanders? The have the bald guy with bald, ball-peen hammer head and that Lou guy. Don’t bet against them.