The New York Islanders face elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight. After sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team is on the verge of being swept themselves by the Carolina Hurricanes.
So much has gone wrong in the second round for the Islanders. The referees took a should-be good goal away from the Isles in each the first and second games of the series, effectively causing New York to lose both games. The referees also allowed a questionable goal in the third game without a second look.
However, the Islanders themselves shoulder most of the blame. After their ten days off, the team was far rustier than they claimed to be. Then, Game 3 saw a very panicky Islanders team that couldn’t pass cleanly or skate fast enough. The Isles simply fell apart and gave up in the third period.
So, now the team finds itself down 3-0 in the series before Game 4 tonight in Raleigh. With everything going perfectly for the Hurricanes, the Islanders seem to be in a dire, hopeless situation. Fans have been writing the team off since Game 2, and several people tossed blame at Robin Lehner after Game 3.
But everyone needs to take a step back and realize that this is not the end for the Islanders.
Sure, the playoffs run might end tonight, but does that mean the entire season of proving people wrong was in vain? No one should get tired of stating that this team was not supposed to place higher than seventh, at the sportswriters’ and analysts’ most generous offer, in the Metropolitan Division. Instead, the team placed second and made the playoffs. That’s remarkable. Then, the Islanders continued on to sweep one of their bitter rivals. The Isles kept the Penguins to just six goals overall and kept Crosby off the board except for a single point – not even a goal, just an assist.
Together Thomas Greiss and Lehner won the Jennings Trophy. The two also set a record by becoming only the tenth pair of goaltenders to post five or more shutouts each in a single season for the same team. Lehner has also been nominated for both the Vezina and Masterton Trophies. Rookie Devon Toews burst through the mold, traveling from the ECHL all the way up to the NHL and declaring his permanent spot on the roster.
Many long-time Isles, like Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, took this season as the time to make their name remembered, posting some of their best numbers in several seasons. As well, Barry Trotz is nominated for the Jack Adams Trophy after he took a ragtag team of written-off misfits to the top of the League and the second round of the playoffs.
It doesn’t get much better than that – yet, it can. This is only Trotz’s first year with the Islanders. It was supposed to be a low-key rebuild year during which incoming General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Coach Trotz examined what they had to work with and how to move forward in future years.
So yes, winning the Stanley Cup would have been the perfect end to a perfect season. And yes, losing in a sweep would be heart-breaking after the perfect season so far. But fans shouldn’t be lamenting quite so soon. After all, how much do we already have to be proud of and to look forward to?
Win or lose tonight, sweep or miraculous reverse sweep, the Islanders have proven everyone wrong, no doubt about it. The team may lose in the second round of the playoffs this year, but it’s only the beginning of, possibly, a new dynasty.
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