The New York Islanders have spent the last few months near the top of the Metropolitan, but have experienced some turbulence lately as the post-season looms overhead. Which Islanders team will we see on the ice come April 9th?
The dominant four-game stretch in January in which the New York Islanders outscored the Lightning, Blues, Devils, and Capitals by a combined score of 13-3, propelled the team into first place in the Metro. The red hot Isles had just won 14 of their previous 17 and it seemed almost too good to be true.
The Islanders were gaining legitimacy and respect around NHL fan bases while putting the entire league on notice. However, Isles fans knew better. We knew not to get ahead of ourselves because, with this team, something has always seemed to go wrong.
We trusted Lou and Trotz but deep down there was a small feeling that we were far from locked into winning the division, let alone just making the playoffs.
Over the next few weeks, things began to heat up in the playoff race. As the regular season dwindled down, the Islanders, still in a tight race with the Capitals for the division title, began to slip up.
The team seemed to stop getting the same lucky bounces and things just weren’t going our way anymore. It became a focal point of understanding that every top-tier team goes through some adversity. Some struggles would have been fine, but things just went from bad to absolutely horrid.
The Isles went on to experience a few multi-game skids, followed by a big win which we all hoped would put them back on track; most notably the February 28th beat down of Tavares’ Maple Leafs.
And then once again, the Islanders began to “pick up some bad habits”. This dreadful play reached its peak when the team got shut out 3 times in 5 games; 2 of which at the hands of mediocre Montreal and Columbus teams.
A loss on Thursday night in Winnipeg certainly did not seem far-fetched, especially following a less than satisfactory effort against the Jackets. Dropping those games back to back would have undoubtedly set off the panic alarms among the fans and the team itself.
It would have solidified a lot of “experts” beliefs that this season was a fluke and that the Islanders will probably be due for a quick first-round exit. But that’s not what happened, now is it?
After going down 2-0 early, the Isles fought back. Much like they have this entire season, they shocked the hockey world by pulling that win out of a hat. A Jordan Eberle goal 7:47 into the third got us back in it.
Casey Cizikas would then hit the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career with under two minutes to play in regulation, and suddenly the game was all tied up at four goals apiece. As soon as Isles fans figured that they were more than content with going to overtime, Eberle notched another one; the eventual game-winner.
That game in Winnipeg was a microcosm of the Islanders entire season. Things seemed to be going nowhere from the start, then with some resiliency, grit, and a fighting spirit, the boys pulled through to show why they are ready to make a deep run for the Stanley Cup.
Eberle’s winner was symbolic. Just like being satisfied with overtime, we thought that the Isles were in a pretty decent place, simply fighting for a wild-card spot in December, and then, in both cases, things just fell into place.
So the question really is not which New York Islanders team will show up for the playoffs. While they have shown a wide range of “battle levels” over the last few months, it has been one team all along.
They may fall behind, get beaten, and experience hardships, but you can count on them to bounce right back and prove to the NHL why they are real contenders. As Robin Lehner said after a tremendous playoff-clinching performance, “Most people have doubted us all year… We’ll see what happens.” YES YES YES we will, Robin.