NHL East

Islanders vs Panthers: The battle against history

In some aspects, the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers couldn’t be more different.

The former set an NHL record for the most consecutive Stanley Cups won by an American franchise with four straight championships in the early 1980’s. Meanwhile, Florida has made just one Stanley Cup Final appearance in its 22-year existence.

But these two franchises have one thing in common — neither team has won a postseason series in at least 20 years.

Coming into the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Islanders have gone 23 years without winning a postseason series, which is the longest current drought in the NHL. Incredibly, the Panthers didn’t even exist the last time New York won a playoff series in 1993.

Florida, though, isn’t much better, as the team owns the second-longest postseason series victory drought at 20 years. The Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and Columbus Blue Jackets have each never won a playoff series, but they have only existed since 1999 and 2000 respectively, so technically their droughts are shorter.

It’s been so long since Florida won a playoff series that defenseman Aaron Ekblad was three months old. Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau along with Islanders defensemen Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and right winger Ryan Strome hadn’t been born the last time New York experienced playoff success.

Coincidentally, the last time both of these teams won in the postseason, it came as an underdog and at the expense of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even more interestingly, current Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr played on both Penguins teams.

1999-2000: Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Pittsburg Penguins in action. Mandatory Credit: IHA/Icon SMI

In 1993, Pittsburgh was the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion and won the Presidents’ Trophy. The Penguins appeared poised to three-peat.

The Islanders, however, had other ideas. New York stole Game 1 of the semi-final series in Pittsburgh 3-2, and picked up another one-goal victory in Game 4 to even the series 2-2. The Penguins won Game 5, but behind left winger Steve Thomas’ four-point performance in Game 6, the Islanders clipped the Penguins, 7-5, to force Game 7.

Thomas scored again in the deciding game, but it was David Volek’s two tallies, including the game-winner in overtime, that propelled the Islanders to one of the greatest Stanley Cup playoff upsets in the last 30 years. New York fell in the next round in five games to Montreal, who went on to win the Stanley Cup (Canada hasn’t won a championship since then).

Florida’s 1996 series against Pittsburgh, which was in the Eastern Conference Final, was eerily similar to New York’s in 1993.

Pittsburgh didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy in 1996, but they led the league in goals behind stellar seasons from Jagr and Mario Lemieux. The Penguins also entered the series having won eight of their last nine playoff games. At the time, Florida’s franchise was merely three years old. No one believed an expansion team would take down Lemieux and the Penguins.

But like the Islanders, the Panthers took Game 1. They didn’t steal it either, decisively dominating Pittsburgh, 5-1.

The Penguins won three of the next four, however, they lost by one goal again on the road in Game 6. Behind right winger Tom Fitzgerald’s goal and assist in Game 7, Florida won the deciding game back in Pittsburgh, 3-1.

Incredibly, Fitzgerald started his career with … yep, the New York Islanders and was on the 1993 team that defeated Pittsburgh in the postseason.

The series victory advanced Florida to its first and only Stanley Cup Final where the Panthers were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.

It has been a long time coming for both the Islanders and Panthers fan bases. New York, once one of the greatest dynasties in hockey, has lost its last seven postseason series. As for Florida, they have appeared in the playoffs just one other time since 2000-01.

In one of the more underrated playoff matchups of the first round, hockey fans will have two franchises dying to receive just a little taste of postseason success.

In about two weeks time, one of them will end their drought, and the other’s frustration will continue.

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