It’s been quite a final week for the New York Islanders. After a thrilling contest in Winnipeg on Saturday, the Islanders survived a late comeback by the Jets to win on a John Tavares shootout goal. Suddenly, the Islanders were poised to clinch a playoff spot, their first in 6 years, on Tuesday night in Carolina. Again, they proved their new-found clutch identity by tying the game with only a minute to spare. They ultimately lost in the shoot out, but the one point coupled with Winnipeg’s loss to the Caps officially locked the Islanders into the post season.
For 48 hours the Islanders found themselves alone in the 6th seed, envisioning a first round meeting with the Washington Capitals. Islander fans looked at the standings and wondered if maybe the team could win out the last two games against the Flyers and Sabres, and with a little help from a faltering Toronto, perhaps even move up to fifth seed. But such dreams faded fast.
The Islanders lost their first game in regulation since March 30th on Thursday night in Philadelphia. Lady luck was against them as both the Rangers and Senators collected 2 points each, jumping them over the Islanders. Suddenly, with one game to go, the Islanders are in the 8th seed, staring at a first round meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They way it’s now laid out, if the Rangers and Sens both win their games, the Islanders will stay in 8th. Their only hope to move up is a combination of gaining points in their last game against the Sabres and losses from these other teams.
The Rangers close out their season on Saturday at home against the Devils. New Jersey was eliminated from playoff contention by the Rangers earlier this week, and have little to play for in the final game. It gives the Rangers a solid opportunity to win and lock in either the 7th or 6th seed. The Senators close out their season against the Bruins in Boston on Sunday. The Bruins are in neck-and-neck race with Montreal for the Northeast Division Title and will be giving the Senators a tough go of it come Sunday.
So the Islanders must deal with the Buffalo Sabres, then wait two days to see who they will face the first round.
The Penguins are the favorites out of the East to go all the way to the Stanley Cup. Not only did they pull ahead of the rest of the conference with an impressive winning streak, they made key acquisitions of stars such as Jarome Inginla and Brenden Morrow. The Penguins dominated the Islanders in the regular season with a 4-1 record . Plus, it was on the March 30th win over the Islanders that Sidney Crosby took a deflected slap shot off Brad Boyes’ stick into the mouth. He hasn’t played since, and only now is ready to come back. Needless to say, this is not the ideal first round match up. The Islanders are a young, inexperienced team when it comes to the playoffs. There isn’t really an easy team for them to play, but certainly for the team and the fans who have waited so long to get back into the post season, the threat of playing Pittsburgh is disconcerting to say the least. Though, there are also plenty of fans who still recall the “Cinderella” win the ’93 Islanders had over the Penguins… it also happens to be 20 years ago and the last time the organization moved past the first round. Can they recapture some of that magic?
If the Islanders can beat Buffalo and get some help with Ottawa or the Rangers they could end up in the 7th seed. If this is the case they will have to wait and see who wins out the Northeast Division to secure the 2nd seed. The Islanders went 2-1 against the Habs this season. Plus, Montreal is also back in the playoffs after missing last year. That may make for a better match up for the Islanders. Against Boston, the Isles went 1-2. Boston often seems to outmatch the Islanders, but the Isles did win the last meeting and the first meeting was a Rick Dipietro start, kind of taking away any prominence to Boston’s victory. Boston at the very least would force the Islanders to lean on their speed, which as a team has become one of their strongest aspects of their attack. Fans trapped in the past will recall that 20 years ago, after the miracle defeat of Mario Lemieux’s Penguins, the Islanders were knocked out by the Montreal Canadiens who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Is it time for some long-awaited revenge?
The Islanders may have had an impressive month of April, but the Caps have been even better. This is thanks in part to Alexander Ovechkin’s explosion in goal scoring in the second half of the season. The Islanders may have gone 2-1 against the Caps, but they may be the hottest team entering the post season. Remember last year when the Kings were the hottest team at this time of year? Fans again, living in the distant past, will recall the last time the Islanders moved on past the first round was against the Caps in… yup, 1993… That series was infamous for the cheap shot hit on Isles star Pierre Turgeon by Dale Hunter. Again, maybe the Isles can dig out some of that 20th anniversary pixie dust?
What Does This All Mean?
If the Islanders can defeat Buffalo on Friday, they will have to sit back and wait until Sunday night to know who they will face in their first playoffs in 6 years. No matter who the opponent, it will be the ultimate test for this young and exciting team. As always with the New York Islanders, it’s about letting go of the past, be it years of futility, or illogically holding on to faded glories. The time is now.