It’s a great time to be an Islanders fan.
Although Monday night’s loss to the Maple Leafs broke many fans’ hearts, the Islanders have bounced back. When they played the Leafs, the Islanders simply could not control the puck. The play was sloppy and lazy, and the team only showed real effort in the first ten minutes and the final five minutes. But Thursday night, the team completely turned its game around. Brock Nelson scored both of the only two goals in the Isles’ win over the Florida Panthers with one in regulation and one in the shootout.
The Islanders now have 101 points – Not only is that more than John Tavares and his Maple Leafs have, but it’s also only the 10th time in franchise history the Islanders have reached the 100-point mark. Besides that, the Islanders maintain their two-point lead over the Penguins and need only one point in Saturday’s game against the Capitals to ensure home ice advantage in the playoffs. One more point will also give the Islanders their highest regular-season total since the 80s.
Robin Lehner summed up every Islanders fans’ feelings in his on-ice interview with Shannon Hogan after the team clinched a playoffs spot: “Playoffs, baby. Playoffs! F*ing, right!”
Last Saturday night’s 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum was the first time the Islanders have clinched the playoffs as early as March since 1990. It was also the first time the Isles have clinched a playoff spot on home ice since 2002 or clinched the playoffs at all since 2016. Regardless of the broken records, the playoffs spot is important for another, bigger reason – the team was not supposed to make the playoffs at all. Over the summer, almost every single analyst wrote the Isles off. Without the great John Tavares, the team was expected to finish the season as a bottom-five team.
The Islanders were expected to flounder. Anders Lee and Josh Bailey were to have terrible seasons without the rock star center. Brock Nelson was to fail at becoming a relied upon top line center. Thomas Griess was to have another less than stellar season. Lehner was to have a terrible season full of anguish and struggle due to the personal demons he so recently conquered. The only Islanders player expected to have a good year in any form was Mat Barzal because he won the Calder Trophy with numbers close to Tavares’ own last season.
But instead of floundering, the Islanders soared.
Barry Trotz so successfully turned the Islanders around that the team went from having the worst goals-allowed stat (293) in League history at the end of last season to have the best goals-allowed stat (191) in League history. With a single game left, the Islanders have allowed 100 fewer goals this year than last year and have two goalies worth the Vezina trophy.
The Isles also have a healthy sampling of players putting up points. Rather than a small handful of players scoring constantly, the Islanders have three players with 20 or more goals (Lee, Nelson, and Cizikas) and five players with 10 or more goals (Barzal, Eberle, Beauvillier, Filppula, and Bailey). Some players’ stats have decreased from last season or from expectations for this season, for example, Barzal, but other players are setting career highs, like Cizikas.
As well, the longest losing streak the Islanders have faced this season is three games; however, the team has not lost in regulation three consecutive times. That means that even during losing streaks the team managed to pick up points in overtime and shootout losses, so the losing streaks were not complete losses after all.
So, yes, the Islanders are in a pretty great position. With so much already determined by Saturday’s upcoming game against the Capitals, the Isles have another thing to focus on: Will they let their tiredness lose the game for them or will they fight? Despite the ups and downs of the late season and the injuries plaguing the team, the Isles have persevered. The team’s overall play is strong. Every time the team loses big, it comes back and wins big, just look at the turnaround from Monday’s loss to the Thursday’s win. The Islanders need to keep the turn around going for this final regular-season game against the Caps.
Among all of the qualities this team has, that determination and perseverance are probably the most important in the post-season. The team may not advance very far in the playoffs – it may not even advance past the first round – but it has definitely proven people wrong and accomplished what it set out to.
Featured Image: New York Islanders Twitter