The New York Islanders are a historic franchise that not many NHL clubs can brag about. Four consecutive Stanley Cup titles, the Islanders dominated the early 80′s and fell just short of winning their fifth straight in 1984.
Fast forward almost thirty years and life hasn’t been as rosy for the Long Island boys. They haven’t made the playoffs in the last five years and have only qualified for the second season only once in the last six seasons. Taking it one step further, they haven’t won a playoff series since 1993 when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the Conference Finals.
So why does this year feel so different for the New York Islanders? Why is it that this team has that “feeling of destiny” to it?
Maybe it’s because of the roll they’ve been on lately, winning seven of their last nine games and not losing in regulation since March 30th. They’ve rejuvenated their long-time, die-hard fan base with their exciting style of play and closing in on a playoff spot, it has everyone who’s ever cheered for the Islanders suddenly taking note again. This one time proud franchise has provided life to those that may choose to dust off their old 1983 corduroy Islanders hat and boast their pride for their long-time club. Others who have stuck by them through thick and thin can simply smile and say ‘it feels damn good to see the boys playing well again.’ Regardless of when or how hard they’ve cheered for this team over the last two decades, it’s easy to be excited about this year’s squad that call Long Island home.
Long gone are the days of Butch Goring, Al Arbor, Bob Nystrom, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies and Mike Bossy. Now the Isles’ fans cheer for the likes of superstar John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes, Mark Streit and Evgeni Nabokov. Not exactly a comparable list of who’s who, but for the Islanders and their fans, that’s hardly relevant.
All that matters is that this team is suddenly in the hunt for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Forget about just making the playoffs, this club could now finish in the middle of the pack and not have to worry about facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Sitting just three points on the ninth place Winnipeg Jets, the Islanders can hardly rest easy especially if they wish to continue to climb the standings in the east. With just four games remaining and all four against teams that are currently out of the playoffs (Jets, Hurricanes, Flyers and Sabres) the Islanders certainly control their own destiny.
One of our editors at Eyes on Isles, Andy Graziano points out, this club is relying on their defensive abilities to help them to win hockey games of late.
For a supposed rag tag bunch that they were supposed to be, the Isles and Evgeni Nabokov, who is playing 15 years below his 37, have allowed only 21 goals in their last 13 games (1.61), which is pretty remarkable stuff. Especially considering in the previous 31, they allowed 106 (3.42). They have a plus goals for/goals against differential for the first time since the end of January. Andrew MacDonald leads the league in blocked shots and we are seeing the beginning of a long career for future assistant captain Travis Hamonic. Back-checking has been absolutely outstanding and their gap control in the neutral zone is flawless.
It’s easy to forget about this team that started so poorly when the regular season got under way, struggling to stay above the .500 level on a consistent basis; making the playoffs seem like a pipe dream.
But suddenly head coach Jack Capuano‘s message either got through of his Kool-aid has been admirable. As Andy notes, Capuano deserves to be in the Jack Adams conversation for his job this season and the fact the club has finally settled into his methods and systems.
“He has been steadfast and not wavered in what he wanted to turn this club into. It was pretty rocky heading into March at 8-11-2 when they finally started to click. The line adjustments Capuano made began to gel, the team started to understand the sacrifice required to win at this level and Lubomir Visnovsky arrived to jump start the transition game from defense to offense.”
On the Jack Adams trophy possibility, Andy calls it like he sees it:
I think that Jack deserves to be in consideration absolutely. Will he win is another story.
So here we sit with the regular season dwindling down and the New York Islanders are not only in the playoff hunt, they may be one of the hottest teams in the league. With the mentioned four games remaining, a lot can certainly happen, both good or bad for the Islanders. But this much we know; the Islanders won’t go quietly. In fact they’ve been playing so well lately that it’s hard to believe they’ll stray from their consistent style of late and with that, they’re bound to make the playoffs.
What does Andy think? Well he agrees and also thinks that this club could make some noise come the second season in the NHL.
The Islanders will not only make the playoffs but I bet a couple of Eastern Conference teams will not want to face them in the opening round. If they finish in that 5 or 6 spot in the East, I can honestly see them advancing to the second round. They are tenacious and gathering more confidence with each passing game. A 13-5-2 road record also means they are not at all intimidated by playing any playoff game in an opposing building.
Andy may be right in that this club doesn’t know any better on where they may end up opening the playoffs. They’re just happy to be playing winning hockey and with a care-free, reckless abandonment like attitude, this team could be the most dangerous heading into the postseason.
A team of destiny? It very well could be. That will be left to the hockey gods to determine but if the last twenty games or so has been any indication, maybe thirty years ago has been long enough for this so called “second New York city team” to be without a cup.
Rich Diaz, the co-editor at Eyes on Isles reminds us of what his father says regarding this club, who has been a fan since 1974:
“Son, these boys remind of the 1979-80 Isles. Everyone forgets that that team was hardly given a chance to win. And then went on to beat the Blackhawks of their era, in the Flyers.”
Rich conveniently reminds us that this season the Blackhawks are all the rage and every club has been using them as measuring stick given their dominance in the league.
Lest we forget gentlemen, that the Hawks of 2012-2013 were chasing the regular season winning streak record set by the 1979-1980 Flyers.
Buckle up Islanders fans. This could be one great ride for you and your team as we get set to enter the second season known as the Stanley Cup playoffs.