Here we stand, in relative disbelief. As previously noted, we expected this team to miss the playoffs by a fairly wide margin. We expected that 53 points made a playoff team, and we expected the Islanders to be limping in at the end at the 46 point level. So bully for them, they shut us up as they’ve already posted 47 points, and they still have six games to play. They aren’t going to finish the season 0-6, are they?
Taking a look at where this team presently sits – 7th in the conference – you’d think playoffs are a given. However, we saw a performance Saturday that put us on alert. The Islanders fell to the 8th seeded Rangers in overtime last Saturday by a score of 1-0. Many Islander fans felt that this was somehow a turning point, and a win. It boggles the mind. The Islanders played a team below them in the standings, that is still acclimating players acquired at the trade deadline into their lineup, and the coach of the Rangers even switched up his lines a little, to freshen up his offense. Not that the switching worked, as the Rangers produced just one goal, but it did show us a lot about the Islanders. Optimists will say “Well, it was only one goal.” One more than we scored, in the biggest Islanders-Rangers game in a LONG time. A big time game where no one comes up big except your goalie is a scary proposition for a team sniffing the playoffs.
And for that matter, the mentality of the downtrodden Islander fan is such that an overtime loss is seen as a victory is pathetic. Yes, the Islanders walked out with a point and are still ahead of the Rangers in the standings. But the Rangers still have a game in hand. Obviously a Rangers win in that spare game flips positions.
What’s more, the Islanders are incredibly fortunate to have the injury bug implode the New Jersey Devils. No one predicted a 6 game losing streak sans Martin Brodeur, nor did anyone foresee a ten game losing streak without Ilya Kovalchuk. Two streaks equaling roughly a third of the season in losses is why the Islanders are in the playoff conversation. Anyone doubting that fact must have conveniently forgotten where the Devils finished last season.
But the Devils are where they are, and the Flyers are where they are, and so are we. But where are we going?
After the gut check, big game loss by the Islanders last Saturday, lets look forward to upcoming games. It goes without saying that Nabakov is doing his part to keep the playoffs a reality. John Tavares must do more than a consistent effort and improved defensive game. He is here to score goals and the Isles could use them.
Florida- should be a win. Florida can be playing for pride and be spoilers like the Islanders usually try to do at the end of a season, but like the usual Islanders season end, Florida should lose. This game will say a lot about the Islanders. Post Ranger game hangovers have been an obstacle in years past. Hopefully, this game should change that. Should.
Toronto- uh oh. Toronto matches up well against the Islanders, and are a playoff caliber team. Another gut check game, and one that could be easily lost – especially if the house money line disappears as they did against the Rangers. ZERO shots in that game for Super Franz Neilsen and Josh Bailey. ZERO.
Winnipeg – another uh oh. Gut check game for both teams, as the Jets are just 3 points out of a playoff spot. They’re on the outside for sure, but a regulation win for the Jets has them a mere point back. You can be sure that the Jets know this and will be extra motivated for this matchup. Mathematically, the Jets need to close out 4-2 if the Islanders go 2-4. The Jets have a similar schedule to the Islanders closing out (Tampa, Carolina, Buffalo, Isles) but have a gut check game against the Capitals that is obviously high stakes, and close versus Montreal, so that works to the Islanders advantage.
Carolina- Have the Islanders beaten the large up front Hurricanes this season? Again, uh oh.
Philadelphia – Next to the Rangers losing, a Flyers loss is pretty fantastic. But the Islanders playing in Philly? Not a great record of success. The Flyers have awful defense and goaltending, so this should be a win. But the Flyers are the Flyers, and will be trouble, despite the fact that the Islanders beat them in the Coliseum in their last matchup. By the way, that home ice win versus the Flyers was the first time in YEARS that Philly lost on Long Island.
Buffalo – This should be a win. Buffalo traded half of its good players (great Job Garth Snow for not kicking the tires on Steve Ott- surely Marty Reasoner has more use for this team) away at the deadline, and then lost young defenseman Tyler Myers to a broken long leg. A disgruntled Ryan Miller may be cause for concern, but this should be a win.
Based on these projections, it is entirely feasible that the Islanders close out the season 2-4. That would be 51 points, and very likely not a playoff bound roster. 3-3? 53 points, playoffs based on our early season estimate. Can they go 3-3? Absolutely. Will they go at least 3-3? We hope so- it would mean that one of us are going to their first Islanders playoff game EVER. Repeat: EVER. And we’re guessing that would be true for a good number of fans.
One thing is clear – the Islanders control their own playoff fate. Three wins would give the Islanders 53 points. The Jets would have to go 4-1-1 to match that. It’s possible, but not likely. Certainly an Islander win next Saturday over the Jets would be helpful in achieving their goal. The next three games will clearly show what to expect from the Islanders.
Our hopes? The Islanders keep their hot hand versus bad teams, and eek out some points versus good ones. Wins against Buffalo, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Florida are very possible. Some overtime or shootout loses versus Toronto and Winnipeg can be tolerable for purpose of standings but not success. We believe that this team can pull of ten points in their last 6 games. We hope they can pass Ottawa for the 6th seed and face the Capitals in the first round. Also, we hope that the Rangers fall apart and get surpassed by Winnipeg just because we always hope the Rangers lose.
Our fears? If they beat Florida and then lose in Toronto and Winnipeg- uh oh. They still may make the playoffs, but they’ll be an 8th seed at best facing Pittsburgh with a rested Sidney Crosby. Ouch. Lets not forget, the Rangers have points in 6 of their last 7 games, have a game in hand, and finish the season facing zero teams presently in the playoffs, including two games against a free-falling New Jersey. And the biggest fear of all- Jack Capuano is retained as head coach as repayment for backing his team into the playoffs without earning it. The next step this team needs will not come with Capuano at the reins.
One thing is for sure- this is the most exciting end to an Islanders season since the “Tank for Tavares” season on one end of the spectrum, but really, since the 2001-2002 season. We’ll be glued to our screens watching how this all turns out, and letting you know what’s on our minds. You’re invited to do the same in the comments section below.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely