When frantically crunching numbers and figuring out a “path to the playoffs” for the New York Islanders, I chose 52 points as the number that it would take to make the post-season for the first time since 2007. Right now, the Isles are on pace for 52.8 points, so they’re exceeding expectations. Analyzing it game by game, as an objective third party one would have to assume at least a few losses down the stretch. Seeing a road game in Boston on the schedule would most likely be one of them.
However, this is a chance for the Big Bad Bruins to be taken down in somewhat of a statement game– one that proves to all the analysts and non-believers that this years Islanders are for real. They are on a 7-1-1 run that has pushed them up to the seventh spot in the Eastern conference, tied in points with the 6th place Senators and 8th place Rangers. The team is playing with more confidence than they have in five years, in my opinion. The younger players are (finally) learning what it takes to win, a welcoming site for fans. When the team blew multiple 2-goal and even a couple of 3-goal leads early in the season, the feeling was there that they could win games but just didn’t have what it took to play the full 60 minutes. They played scared with a lead- not challenging the opponent in the neutral zone, rather letting them skate right in and therefore playing a majority of crunch time in their own zone, which can only lead to disaster. The fly-bys that were visible earlier in the year, where a player would pass up on a chance to forecheck and just skate by them to get back to their defensive position, are all cured. The Islanders are learning fast, and at the right time.
One could argue a young team like the Islanders (They’re actually one of the oldest teams on paper, but that is thrown off by a few older veterans such as Evgeni Nabokov, Mark Streit, Lubomir Visnovsky, etc.) had to go through those growing pains in order to understand what it takes to win. And when they did learn, it would come out of nowhere. Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here. To get to 52 points, the Islanders would only have to go 4-4 for the rest of the year. A 4-3-1 record would produce a more comfortable 53 points. The game in Boston tonight at 7 PM is definitely the hardest on the remaining schedule, and the only one against any team in the top 6 in the East that they have left except for a game in Toronto.
As for the Bruins, they haven’t been so bad lately either. 6-3-1 in their last 10, they are now atop the Northeast division, passing Montreal last night after a nail-biter against New Jersey. They had a 4-0 lead at one point and only ended up winning 5-4. What does that tell an Islanders fan? It says they may be tired and vulnerable. Playing the second night of a back to back is seen as a disadvantage for the Bruins. They also had to travel from NJ to Boston last night while the Islanders were comfortably asleep in their hotel room. Additionally, they will most likely be without their top two scorers, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Marchand was elbowed up high by Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov and did not return to the game.
So the stars are aligned for an upset– two costly injuries, the second night of a back to back with travel (although a relatively small amount of travel), and the Islanders confidence being sky high. The Isles don’t need this game in order to make the playoffs, but it would be a huge confidence boost. It will still be tough, as any NHL game is, especially because of Rasks’s 6-1 record and 2.25 GAA against the Islanders. However, if they find a way to get it done, I believe that’ll be a sure-fire message that they are a bona-fide playoff team. If they do not pull out the victory, the Ranger game on Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum gets even more interesting.