Sports are wrought with emotion. It’s what’s makes them such a great part of fan(atic)s’ lives. The unexpected highpoints and the crushing low points are what litter the landscape on the road that ends at 16W with a stop at Lord Stanley’s. The New York Islanders Fans have traveled this road before. They know the road and where the potholes are. This incarnation of the team hasn’t, though.
They are young and inexperienced. That much was evident in game 1 when Pittsburgh blew the doors of them. They sat there and the black sports car with gold racing stripes streaked by them. The Penguins notched 1W out of the 16 needed to reach their goal and it seemed like 4.
The height of the clamor of the Chicken Littles was 3 minutes in yesterday where the Islanders were already down 2-0. A few journalists with keen eyes and a penchant for analytics pointed out the Isles were starting to actually steer play in their direction and that Pittsburgh couldn’t keep allowing chances in waves. The Isles poked one home and then the Captain of the Penguins and the only story the NHL cares about responded. The New York Islanders were trying to outrace a Ferrari in a Dodge Dart.
Then a funny thing happened. Brian Strait took the side mirror off that snazzy sports car with a (surgically repaired) teeth rattler on Crosby. And then Kyle Okposo smashed their grill in with a cross that crossed up Matt Niskanen. 13 seconds later, the Islanders found the back of the net. 3 minutes later, they squared the score. From then on, the Islanders had the inside track. The race is 2 laps in, and dead even.
With Goaltenders, confidence is a funny thing. With some, no matter how many big games they win, it’s never more than an awkward bounce away from eroding. With others, you can hang 8 on them in 3 periods, have the best player in the world streaking down the wing unchallenged, biscuit on his stick looking for a hat trick and have the seemingly struggling goaltender swagger the puck away with panache. The Professor is the teams thermostat, not it’s thermometer. Nabby sets the temperature. His cool demeanor never gives it away, win or lose. 6 times this team has gone on the road and spotted the opposition a quick deuce lead and then rallied to overtake them. Your barn does not scare them. They are too young to know any better. They are however, starting to learn they are good.
It’s a funny thing going into a game knowing you are going to be reduced to tears. That was the experience at the regular season home finale against Florida. The boys flexed the guns and imposed their will and the old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike got a little dust kicked up in the air possible, because a few eyes got misty as ‘WE WANT PLAYOFFS’ shook the rafters dotted with memories of playoff glory past. After the clincher (scored by who else, Johnny Franchise) in Carolina, the dust seemed to make it’s way through every TV set that was watching the game. Quite a few TV sets, too as the Islanders ratings, lockout and all are up 150%. Anyhow, the last game at the Coliseum and the first game at Barclay’s will produce some of that eye irritating dust, but tomorrow will produce something else: Ear-aches. Soak in the atmosphere tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a long time coming.
This team has been ‘lost in the wilderness’ since David Volek smoked a one-timer past Tom Barrasso in the Spring of ’93 to deny the Penguins a dynasty. Since then, they’ve been sold, mocked, faced extinction and irrelevance. Now, they have one of the best players in the world, a sparkling new home waiting, an outdoor game next year, and oh yeah, an inspiring month plus of play to get the opportunity to be where they are today. The New York Islanders tradition is that of a team that doesn’t believe in convention, that scoffs at the easy way.
That tradition was began in 1975 by ousting the Rangers and twice rallying to square series that they trailed 3-0, including a legendary salvo by 18 to take down the mighty Penguins. Then there were Tonelli’s heroics to keep the dynasty dreams alive at the expense of Pittsburgh. And lastly, the aforementioned thunderclap that was Ferraro to Volek.
This history, this road traveled by the Islanders, has gone through the Steel City before. They know the path and they’d like nothing more than to complete that trip again. The ’80s muscle car has the engine humming and the flashy imported sports car is sporting a few nicks in the paint today. Better buckle up, kids.