The Islanders are thinking playoffs.
Practicing for the first time in the new year, they were still giddy from their victory over former captain John Tavares on the ice of his hometown Maple Leafs and subsequent win against the Sabres on New Year’s Eve.
Albeit with slightly more than half the season remaining, the Islanders believe they are headed for the postseason. “Oh yeah, one hundred percent,’’ goalie Robin Lehner said Wednesday at Northwell Health Ice Center.
All they have to do is convince their coach of that.
“We’re not in the playoffs,’’ Barry Trotz said. “They can rumble all they want. As of today, we’re not in the playoffs.’’
Going into Wednesday night’s games the Islanders, who have won seven of their last eight, were a point out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Beating Tavares, who went to Toronto as a free agent, became a defining moment of the first half of the season. “It was something that kind of needed to happen for that the rearview mirror side of things to come into play,’’ captain Anders Lee said. “It was a good measuring stick for us.’’
Matt Martin added, “The media made it seem like (the Islanders) were a one-man team with Johnny. Johnny was an elite player in this league, we always felt we were more than that and I think in a lot of ways took that personally. There is a lot of talent in this dressing room. There’s a lot of guys committed to wanting to win.
Guys are determined to get to the playoffs. We win by committee.’’
Lehner said Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello made it clear what the objective was before Lehner signed his contract. “From my first meeting with Lou and with Barry the mentality was always playoffs,’’ he said. “That was the condition, that’s what they wanted. No question about it and that’s what we have in mind.’’
Trotz said of his team, which is 21-13-4: “They were in probably a position similar to this last year (20-14-4) and they weren’t even close to a playoff spot when it ended up,’’ referring to a 13-point deficit for the second wild card.
“So, we don’t want to be in that position,’’ Trotz continued. “We want to take steps forward. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re locked in and locking down areas of our game . . . It’s all about growing a foundation, growing an identity not only for this year but for coming years where we hopefully will be a playoff team year in and year out. The first step is to make the playoffs . . . We haven’t made the playoffs, we’re not there yet, we have a lot of work to do.’’
Notes & quotes: Trotz said Valtteri Filppula (upper body) is day-to-day, but did not rule out calling up a player from Bridgeport after the third-line center’s condition is re-evaluated before Thursday’s game with the Blackhawks. Thomas Hickey (upper body) also remains day-to-day.