The Islanders Need To Overcome Their Game 5 Struggles

The New York Islanders Wednesday night, failed to do something they have not done in 14 years, win consecutive playoff games. Seems crazy to think that a franchise who won a record 19 consecutive playoffs series, a feat which probably will never be broken, simply cannot put two wins together.  It could cost them once again.

The series shifts back to Florida for a pivotal Game five with the teams alternating wins through the first four games. The Islanders have had little success in Game fives in recent history, losing 11 straight. Their last win occurred back in 1987 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Patrick Division Finals. To put into context how long ago their last win was, Jaromir Jagr was three and a half years away from making his NHL debut. Not to mention it was still the Patrick Division.

The last time the Isles hosted a Game five was in 1988 against the New Jersey Devils. Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Ken Morrow were still playing! That was the first of 11 straight losses. Since the streak began, New York has played in some very interesting Game fives.

1990 vs New York Rangers

The Islanders returned to the playoffs after missing them the year before. It was the first time since 1973-74 that they failed to qualify. The Isles were 31-38-11 in the 1989-90 season. Just two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for last place. They were without their best player, Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine for most of the series. LaFontaine suffered a concussion in the opening game of the series. LaFontaine recalled the aftermath following the concussion.

“I’ll never forget being wheeled off on a stretcher and fans yelling, ‘LaFontaine, I hope your neck’s broken! I hope you die!’ . . . The stretcher wasn’t bad enough, so let’s shake the ambulance. They were trying to tip over the ambulance. There were probably 50 people. I was on the headboard and I was laying down and the doors opened up and the attendant was screaming and yelling and it was shaking. But somehow we were finally able to get to Lenox Hill [Hospital].”

The series was know for it’s physicality and dirtyness. The teams combined for 314 penalty minutes.

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LaFontaine returned for Game five with the Islanders on the brink of elimination. He assisted on a goal. Rookie goaltender Mark Fitzpatrick allowed five goals before being replaced by future Isles playoff hero Glenn Healy. Fitzpatrick was 0-2 with a 5.12 goals against average and a .817 save percentage. Head coach Al Arbour scratched Trottier to get a little more speed into the lineup. He would never play another game for the Islanders. The Rangers defeated the Islanders in five games. It was their second playoff-series win against their rivals.

2002 vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The Islanders returned to the playoff for the first time since 1994. This was one of the nastiest series that I could remember. Don Cherry seems to think so.

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This was the last time the Islanders won consecutive playoff games. Fresh off Shawn Bates’ penalty shot goal in Game four, New York headed to Toronto looking for the first road win by either team in the series. This game was ugly all around for the Islanders. Their former captain Bryan McCabe scored two goals. Goaltender Chris Osgood was pulled after the Leafs’ fourth goal and was replaced by Garth Snow. The series really changed on two hits in the game. The first being Gary Roberts’ hit on Kenny Jonsson.

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The bad officiating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not just limited to this year. Roberts received a five-minute major but was not ejected nor suspended. The officials felt that Roberts did not intent to injure Jonsson. Judge it for yourself. Roberts scored goals in both Game six and seven.

The second occurred early in the second period. Darcy Tucker low-bridged Isles captain Michael Peca. The two went at it in the previous four games.

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No penalty was called on the Play. The league reviewed the play following the game and deemed it legal. The debate of that play has continued over the years. The league created the clipping rule as a result.

44.1 Clipping – Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.

A player may not deliver a check in a “clipping” manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.

An illegal “low hit” is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.

Peca and Jonsson were lost for the playoffs. Peca tore both the ACL and MCL in his knee.  New York lost Game five 6-3 and the series in seven games. The home team won every game. I’ve been saying this for the past 14 years. If both players were healthy, the Islanders win that series.

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2013 vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The Islanders returned to the playoff in the lockout-shortened season for the first time since 2007. Their reward? The top-seeded Penguins. Most predicted a short series. The Pens won the regular-season series 4-1 and out scored the Isles 17-9. Pittsburgh blitzed New York 5-0 in the series opener. The teams alternated wins the next three games. The series returned to Pittsburgh for Game five. The upstart Islanders were giving the Penguins all they could handle. Game five was a different story. After a scoreless first period, the Pens broke through with two goals in a span of 80 seconds in the second period. Pittsburgh tacked on two more before chasing Isles goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for the second time in the series. The Pens would win the series in six games on Brooks Orpik’s overtime winner.

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2015 vs Washington Capitals

New York headed to Game five in another familar spot, tied at two. Isles forward Anders Lee fought Caps forward Tom Wilson early in the first. Lee was trying to exact some revenge on Wilson, who injured defensman Lubomir Visnovsky in the previous game. For Lee’s troubles, he would be scratched for Games six and seven. The Islanders opened the scoring first as they did in three of the first four games, on a Josh Bailey goal. The lead would be short lived as the Caps scored the next five goals and chased Jaroslav Halak. Rookie defenseman Griffin Reinhart replaced Visnovsky and struggled. The team lost yet another defenseman in Calvin de Haan, who left in the third period. New York would be without Visnovsky, de Haan and Travis Hamonic, who missed all of the playoffs, for the remainder of the series. The Isles had to go to war with Brian Strait, Scott Mayfield and Matt Donovan. They won Game six and lost in seven.

Flash forward to present day. This series with the Florida Panthers has been extremely tight. Besides the empty net goal by the Panthers in Game two, each of the first four games has been a one-goal game.

The Islanders, in order to win this series will have to snap one of their long losing streak. They will need more than John Tavares to do it.