Josh Bailey is the longest tenured New York Islanders player. His 13 seasons on Long Island saw him mature from a hopeful first round selection under Garth Snow to a valuable second line winger and locker room presence for head coach Barry Trotz.
Observers may glance at Bailey’s statistical output and overlook his impact with the Islanders, but they cannot dismiss his efforts in the playoffs, where his leadership and intangibles help guide his team through ebbs and flows of a seven-game series.
An example of Bailey’s influence came Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins with the game tied in double overtime. The Penguins dictated play for much of the night in terms of puck possession and doubled the Islanders shot total.
But Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry could not maintain their edge when his inability to clear the puck led to a Bailey interception and an ensuring goal just 51 seconds into the second overtime period. Jarry’s miscue gave the Isles a 3-2 series lead and left them with a chance to clinch the series in Game 6 on home ice.
“It feels good, honestly, and we were all focused on the task at hand, so it doesn’t matter who gets the goals,” Bailey said. “We are all excited and a win is a win and we will move forward.”
The Islanders trailed 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4, despite a relatively even performance by both teams. The team expected better production and consistency, however from their top forward lines and received a strong effort from Bailey, who took charge with the game’s opening goal. His energy resonated in a dominant Isles performance to get back into the series.
“It was a lot of fun and a great atmosphere,” Bailey said about the Game 4 victory at Nassau Coliseum. “I thought the fans provided us with a spark. It’s fun to have that many people supporting you. It’s a good feeling.”
For some teams, the playoff atmosphere can cause overwhelming adversity and tense play when trailing in a series. The Islanders typically avoid falling in that pattern thanks to sound chemistry and a stable core led by Bailey that remained together for the past six seasons.
“I think it is important for any team that has success has that (chemistry),” Bailey said. “It is definitely a factor. Guys have been together a long time, and we added some guys who are character people and fit it really well, so I think I like our chemistry.”
The deep connection within the roster grew last summer in the bubble in Toronto, as the Islanders reached Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in a memorable playoff run. Bailey’s leadership and unselfish play resulted in 18 assists and 20 points, while setting up his linemates Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier.
Bailey continued making strides during the shortened 2020-21 regular season with 35 points, 27 assists and a career-best +12 in plus/minus. His two-way play and penchant for setting up his teammates proved vital for the Islanders after they lost Anders Lee for the season because of an ACL injury and Kyle Palmieri’s early struggles after coming over from New Jersey.
“As far as character, if you don’t have it, you are not going to find a way to win,” Bailey said regarding team play. “I think we have lots of it in the room. We believe in ourselves and try to put our best foot forward.”
The focus for Bailey each night on the ice is making the subtle play that can put his team in position to win a game. This may include a pass to a teammate or separating his opponent from the puck. Bailey’s understated efforts may not always get the recognition it deserves, but it continues to fit the system employed by the Isles, and personifies the qualities needed to succeed when the games hold the greatest meaning.