New York Islanders Looking Ahead to NHL Playoffs


The New York Islanders have played four playoff series in the past nine years. With the virtual certainty that the Islanders won’t be playing in one during 2017, it seems like a good time to take a look at them.

In the name of full disclosure, I feel it prudent to say that the inspiration for this topic comes directly from the less-than-inspiring results during the first half of this season. Fairly soon the mathematical hammer will fall on the playoff pursuit, the GM and Coach will be relieved of their duties, and a few players will be cast aside.

When that happens, this spring most likely, Islander fandom will look forward with new found optimism. There will be hopefulness about finding a winger or two for Tavares, about embracing 21st Century coaching and personnel strategies, about a more practical and less petty approach to governing.

But we aren’t there yet. Today we still suffer not just with inadequate results, but with repetitive failures. And this familiarity has surely bred discontent. At least in me. Sometimes a bad team wallows in the cliche, “every day we find a new way to lose”.

Ranking Playoff Appearances

Not these Islanders. They have a well-defined recipe for failure and by gosh, by golly, they are sticking with it. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. There are only two steps.

  1. Play well enough to be tied or ahead going into the third period.
  2. Then play so poorly you lose.

In times like these, crappy times for Islander fans, the mind wanders. Four playoff series during the Tavares Renaissance and return to glory. That is where my brain landed today. So I decided to rank them, not by actual results, but by how well I believe the Islanders played in the series.

To my eyes, the Islanders performed best in the first of the four series.

2013 vs Pittsburgh

This was a series where the Islanders outworked and out hustled the Pens. This is the only one of the four where they were clearly the better team during the games and, frankly, would have won in five had Nabokov played merely up to his usual standards.

Sure, the asterisk there is that Fleury was bafflingly, strategically, inept. But I’m not ranking the Penguins. That is not my problem. In April of 2013, the puck spent more time in Pittsburgh zone game after game. And if you think of an overtime game as a tie, a toss up that either team could win, then the series is still tied 2-2-2.

I am not one of those apologists who says “the Islanders deserved to win”. They lost. Fair and square. I’m simply saying they played well enough to win, outside of game one.

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2015 vs. the Washington Capitals

Probably the second best series they played was two years later, in Unlike the Penguins series, the Isles did not outplay the opponent. But they played them even until game seven.

There were long stretches of play controlled by each team. Big hits, solid goaltending, timely scoring. In fact, totals goals in the seven-game series were 16-15.  Can’t get much more even than that.

Again, I don’t want to be the apologist who complains about the Isles defense being decimated by injuries. It’s just an unfortunate fact. But I do credit that team for performing so well under that set of circumstances.

More on the Islanders: Thomas Greiss Isn’t the Problem With The Isles

2016 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Third best series they played in the past few years was last spring’s second round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I think Tampa had the better of the play for the most part. Maybe 55-45, or 60-40. They weren’t dominant. Just better.

Like the Pens series discussed above, the Isles lost a pair of OT games that could have easily gone the other way, and given them the series win. But it didn’t.

2016 vs. Florida Panthers

And here’s really what I have been getting at for the past 600 words. The WORST playoff series the Islanders played in the past decade, is the only one they have won in the past quarter century.

The Panthers controlled that series in each and every game. Whatever the scoreboard showed, the Islanders were under constant pressure and in almost continual jeopardy.

Aaaaaaand, they won. We could leave it there and call it irony. But I think there’s more to learn here. If you agree with my assessment that of the above playoff series, another narrative becomes apparent.

Next: Okposo and Nielsen Are All-Stars Now

The Islanders’ playoff performances have gotten worse, not better, during the past few years. It means our optimism last spring was misplaced. Our joy wasn’t, just our optimism. That is part of what seems an inevitable and imminent reevaluation of the past few years. I hadn’t heard anyone mention it. So I figured I would point it out.