UNIONDALE, N. Y. — I’ve had the same conversation with countless people over the past six years or so, and it always makes me wonder: are the New York Islanders – my favorite professional sports team – irrelevant? (My answer: no. Their answer: um, maybe?)
It always begins by someone asking me what sport I follow, or which team I support. Almost 100 percent of the time, I can’t wait to interrupt them to blurt out, “The New York Islanders,” like it’s the only possible answer a person could ever have.
And I never think that what I’ve said could be considered strange.
Then I get that quizzical look from the person who asked the question, and it dawns on me: the Isles aren’t a prominent team in the landscape of American professional sports. I often have to repeat myself: “The New York Islanders. They’re this hockey team that plays on Long Island? Still haven’t heard of them? I know they haven’t had the best teams recently, but they’re starting to put it together…”
I end up coming across as apologetic, or even like I’m begging this person to believe that my favorite team is the best-kept secret in pro sports. Or at least, that they’re real.
I always trail off after a few minutes because it’s apparent that the person is sorry they asked me the question in the first place. They’re stuck listening to me ramble on about how the team was once one of the most dominant NHL franchises; that the Isles have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to developmental prospects; that Garth Snow’s rebuild is finally taking shape and the team is poised for rejuvenation in Brooklyn.
These poor people, not knowing that the Islanders franchise is a real thing and it is awesome. Oh well, their loss. But I digress…
We at EyesOnIsles – as well as the legions of Islanders die-hards who have had to put up with lean years over the past few decades – know that the franchise has struggled. But the team is turning the corner and the future is now. A future, I might add, that looks brighter than most.
Tonight, the Islanders will look to take another step in the right direction as they take on the Lightning in Uniondale. The team is riding a streak of at least one point in six of their last seven games and is currently in eighth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Despite a dismal 7-11-0 home record this season, the Isles are on the brink of tying their longest home winning streak – three games – in the past three seasons.
What’s more, the crowd tonight is sure to be heavily pro-Isles due to an announced sellout. Expect more blue and orange in the seats than you’ve seen at any point during the season, with the exception of the home opener. I’m sure we can all agree, it’s going to be a beautiful sight.
And if the team keeps rolling, expect Isles games to be a tough ticket going forward.
The Islanders have beaten the Lightning in two previous meetings this season, winning 4-3 at home and 2-0 on the road. A season sweep would not only look good in the record book, but would sustain the Isles’ momentum built up over the past two weeks.
With ten games remaining in the season, every point is important.
The Bolts come into tonight’s matchup at 16-18-2 (34 points), fourth in the Southeast Division and tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference. It’s a bit of a role reversal from what’s happened in recent years, since the Islanders are the team looking to seize an opportunity to beat up on a team below them in the standings.
It might be new territory for the Isles, but they’ve shown an uncanny knack for winning games lately. I’m not sure I’m quite used to the higher expectations on The Island yet, but I’m not complaining. (Seriously, I’ve been waiting my whole life to be able to watch games that I expect the Isles to win. It’s a strange feeling, but I like it.)
While the top line of Moulson-Tavares-Boyes hasn’t been the focal point of the team’s offense lately, it hasn’t stopped the Isles from putting the puck in the back of the net. The emergence of the long-hoped-for chemistry of the Bailey-Nielsen-Okposo line has given us secondary scoring that’s led to the team earning points.
(For further proof, look back to the first goal by Bailey against the Devils on April 1st or the game-tying blast from Okposo against the Capitals on April 4th. Need I say more?)
It’s important for that line to keep things rolling tonight, especially against the Bolts’ top scorer Steven Stamkos. This season’s goal-scoring leader has had success against the Isles throughout his career – I wouldn’t mind seeing him be held pointless tonight.
Besides, if Tavares can get on the score sheet tonight, NHL talking heads HAVE to start acknowledging how good he’s been this season. In case you weren’t looking, he only trails Stamkos by two goals on the year.
BREAKING: this team is for real. Fans are starting to take note. Analysts at major sports networks should, too.
Short story long, the Isles have a chance to cement their status as a contender in the race for the playoffs with a win at home tonight against the Lightning. We as fans need to show our support – which, according to the team’s box office and Ticketmaster, we will. If you can’t make it to the Coliseum tonight, find a TV, a radio, a Twitter feed, smoke signals, anything.
The Isles are playing exciting games in April again. Believe me, it’s good to be an Islanders fan right now.
Speaking of which, follow the EyesOnIsles staff on the Facebook and that Twitter-machine thing:
@tazman19 (Andy Graziano)
@eyesonisles (Rich Diaz)
@moosiestmoose42 (Scotty Bonner)
@MichaelWillhoft (I’ll give you one guess…)
If you haven’t already, check the game day song on the EyesOnIsles homepage. It’s in the Hub on the right hand side of the page. If you’re not pumped for tonight’s tilt after listening, you might need to get your ears checked…