Tonight the New York Islanders regular season comes to a close, as does their 5-game road trip, which they are 2-1-1 on currently. They are playing the Buffalo Sabres at 7 PM. There are many scenarios that could still play out as the season winds down, but the Islanders do not hold their seeding fate in their own hands. After a regulation loss last night in Philadelphia, even if the Islanders win tonight they will need help from New Jersey tomorrow to avoid Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. In terms of the ultimate goal– winning the Stanley Cup– seeding doesn’t matter too much, as a team would likely have to go through Pittsburgh anyway. However, to a fan base that hasn’t seen its team win a playoff series in over 20 (no, that isn’t a typo) years, the difference between the 6, 7, and 8 seed can be huge. The gap between 6 and 8 will only be separated by a maximum of 4 points, but it could be huge in terms of who teams play in the opening round. A winning playoff series would put a tremendous amount of pride back into the fan base, it’d put this Islander team on the NHL’s radar even further, and would certainly help Charles Wang acquire new season-ticket holders. Sports Business Journal’s Chris Botta said that the Islanders have acquired 1,000 new season ticket holders for next season already, just because of the playoff berth.
However, this game is more important than just for seeding purposes. The Isles play as of late has been questionable, to put it lightly. There are scenarios when there could be “trap games”, such as last night’s game in Philadelphia, after the “high” of making the post-season. But once it becomes a usual occurrence, it’s something to be concerned about. Starting to play worse in their own zone, reverting back to the “same old Islanders” way of never being able to clear the puck/being afraid to ice it, not getting as much effective forecheck, etc. are all things that have been creeping into their play lately and it should be a concern that they’re developing bad habits, at the VERY wrong time. Especially for a team with as little playoff experience as this one, going downhill and backing into the playoffs to face an absolute juggernaut in Pittsburgh is a formula for getting swept. And when I say juggernaut, I mean PP unit of Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Letang, Iginla juggernaut.
5 games ago they beat the Panthers but they honestly outplayed us.. they’re the worst team (statistically) in the NHL. After the game fans said “You don’t expect a playoff team to take their foot off the gas a bit after going up a few goals?” Fine. Isolated incident?
3 games ago they played glorified pond hockey and made a bunch of stupid plays, at times literally unable to ge it out of our own zone and it took a skills competition to beat Winnipeg. After the game fans said, “Well, it was a big and tough game because the Jets were hungry to keep their playoff hopes alive.” Fine. Isolated incident?
2 games ago they didn’t play well and went down three separate times to a crap Carolina team. The Islanders needed a goal off a skate with a minute left to even get a point out of it. “Trap game?” Isolated incident?
Last night we played Philly… I was unable to watch the game but it sounds like we played quite pitifully, and it’s reflected both in the regulation loss and the shot totals. (30-22 PHI). “Was this a trap game after we clinched?” Isolated incident?
At what point does this become an issue rather than just an isolated game that fans are making up excuses for?
Tonight that CANNOT be the case. Not just because of the fact that a loss guarantees us Pittsburgh, but also because of the fact that this is very concerning how we’re playing down the stretch and I could easily see a bunch of inexperienced players folding under the pressure of the playoffs.
Come out hard tonight, play our game, and win, and I’m definitely not worried. I’ll have my confidence back, hopefully they already have theirs.