Knicks’ Obi Toppin projects confidence as he targets big sophomore season jump

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

As Team USA prepares for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, New York Knicks’ rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley were asked to join the USA Select Team. Both will work alongside some of the world’s best basketball players, soaking up their knowledge like a sponge while also looking to iron out some of their own kinks.

Toppin, who was selected 8th overall in the 2020 NBA draft, had a quiet rookie season with New York. He averaged 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and shot nearly 50% from the field over just 11 minutes per game. His counterpart, Quickley, had a far more impressive and productive first season in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean the young power forward won’t take a massive developmental leap next season.

The coaching staff gave Toppin words of wisdom before joining the USA Select Team in Vegas, stating:

“The message, [the coaches] told me coming here is just be a sponge,’’ Toppin said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. “There’s great coaches and players out here and just get better and develop my game. I’m working really hard in this offseason to be better for my second season coming up. It’s going be a lot different than the first season.’’

The opportunity the 23-year-old Brooklyn native has is meaningful, spending time alongside players like Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard. Quickley also mirrored his excitement regarding learning from some of the best in the NBA this summer.

“It’s amazing,’’ Toppin expressed. “I‘m not going to say I had the best rookie year. But for me to have the opportunity to come out here and be part of USA and help prepare the Olympic guys for their time in Tokyo, to have that opportunity is amazing and I wouldn’t change it for the world.’’

The Knicks saw a better version of Toppin during the post-season:

Toppin gained a touch of confidence during the postseason, scoring a high of 13 against Atlanta in Game 4, an eventual loss. During the contest, he also recorded three rebounds and shot 62% from the field and 33% from downtown. As his confidence built, his production also increased, which is a positive sign for a player trying to adjust to the NBA.

“I feel the playoffs was definitely a confidence-booster,’’ Toppin said. “I felt myself getting better. But it was the work I was doing every single day before that. My teammates had confidence in me and confidence I could do what I had to do.’’

Aside from the Select Team, Toppin is also engaging in the Summer League, working with Quickley and Luca Vildoza, the Knicks’ foreign signing prior to the end of the 2020 season. If all three can elevate their game ahead of the upcoming year, the Knicks could have a few secret weapons up their sleeve, ready to make an impact. Toppin, who represented one of the best transition scores in college during his time at Dayton, is looking to become a force as an athletic frontcourt option with adequate shooting prowess.

New York Giants: New additions Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney will be an elite deep-threat duo

new york giants, kenny golladay

The New York Giants had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season. They averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game, ranking second-to-last in the NFL. Part of the Giants’ major struggles offensively was their failure to get the deep-passing game together.

Daniel Jones attempted only 43 passes 20+ yards downfield in 2020. Jones is a conservative quarterback, but this low attempt total is unacceptable in the modern NFL. The Giants also did not have a ton of vertical receiving talent, nor an offensive coordinator that emphasized deep passing. But in 2021, all of that should change.

The New York Giants made plenty of big moves this offseason to improve their offense. Some of the Giants’ acquisitions seem to indicate that New York will emphasize the deep-passing game this upcoming season. In particular, new additions Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney will be a huge boost to the team’s vertical offense, creating an elite deep-threat duo.

Golladay and Toney going deep

Kenny Golladay is one of the best deep-threats in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants’ new alpha dog as the third-best deep-threat in the league. Golladay was a huge addition to the Giants’ offense as a receiver that will open up their vertical attack on offense.

Per PFF, Golladay ranks fourth among NFL wide receivers in deep receiving yards over the past three years, and he was just nine yards behind third-place despite playing in only 5 games in 2020. Kenny Golladay’s 628 yards on deep passes ranked second in the league in 2019 (PFF). KennyG’s production on deep receiving is incredible, but the Giants’ first-round pick Kadarius Toney isn’t too shabby going deep either.

According to Pro Football Focus, 10.7 percent of the Kadarius Toney’s targets in college were on passes 20+ yards downfield. Toney earned an insane 99.6 grade with a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted on those deep passes.

Kadarius Toney is one of the most dynamic rookies entering the NFL this year. Not only is he a great deep receiving threat, but he is also a YAC monster that will open up the intermediate passing game, along with the return of superstar running back Saquon Barkley. Kadarius Toney forced a missed tackle on 35% of touches since 2018, which was first among the 2021 wide receiver draft class (PFF). Toney forced 32 missed tackles on 80 catches the past two seasons (PFF).

Daniel Jones was PFF’s third-highest graded passer on deep balls in 2020 with a 95.6 passing grade. Jones did not throw deep that often, but when he did he made it count. Now, with this influx of talent in Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay, Daniel Jones should start slinging it deep more often and the Giants’ offense should enjoy an elite deep-threat duo in 2021.

New York Giants: ESPN places Nate Solder on roster bubble

New York Giants, Nate Solder

Not every player that’s with the New York Giants now will make it to the regular season. This offseason is set to be especially competitive, after the Giants made a number of new additions on both offense and defense. With only so many roster spots available, it’s just simple math that some of the existing players will be displaced. What’s up for debate, however, is which players that will be. According to ESPN, former starting tackle Nate Solder could easily be one of the cuts.

Veteran in danger: Nate Solder, OT

Why he could get cut: Solder opted out last year and didn’t play particularly well the two years prior. And now it has been 18 months since the veteran offensive tackle has been in a full-contact practice or game. Who is to say his body can hold up at 33 years old after more than a year off? Or that he’s willing to go through the full grind to potentially be a backup for the first time since he was a freshman at Colorado? Only time will tell. Solder is competing this summer not only for the starting right tackle job with Matt Peart, but also a roster spot. — Jordan Raanan

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan named Solder as the veteran player in danger of a cut, despite the Giants coming to terms with Solder on a smaller contract for this season. But how much merit really is there in that prediction?

Nate Solder as a possible roster cut

Solder hasn’t impressed anyone during his time on the field with the Giants. That, primarily, is the reason why he jumps out as a candidate for a cut. When Solder’s contract was reworked, some would have preferred for the Giants to just move on from the player altogether. The fact that Solder hasn’t played for a year is only another red flag on top of his previous performance.

This all means that training camp in specific will be a big deal for Solder. It’s when we’ll get to see him moving at full speed and whether or not his play has dropped further after taking time off. Multiple interviews with Solder earlier in the offseason indicate that he’s at peace with the idea of retirement.

Given that, and the fact that Solder expressed enjoyment at the time he spent away from the game, we shouldn’t consider it too surprising if Solder is more willing to accept a cut and retire instead of pushing himself to turn back the clock. He’s already accomplished more than most players in the league, after all.

And for the Giants, such a move might not be the worst option in the world. They already know who would replace Solder if he wasn’t on the roster this season, and with the ongoing competitions at some spots, the Giants could really use an extra roster spot.

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees fail the sweep again with shutout by the Mariners

After winning the first two games on the west coast against the Seattle Mariners this afternoon, the New York Yankees went for the sweep. The Yankees had Jordan Montgomery on the mound facing the Mariners Logan Gilbert. The Yankees hadn’t won a series since the Royals Series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were 3 for 7 when going for the sweep. The Yankees failed miserabley in this game only getting one hit in the shut out by the Mariners.

DJ LeMahieu stuck out opening the first inning. Aaron Judge flew out to far center, and Gary Sanchez popped out into the left-field foul territory. Jordan Montgomery faced JP Crawford in the bottom, and he flew out to Gardner in center. Mitch Haniger struck out. Kyle Seager hit a home run over Brett Gardner’s glove at the wall. Ty France flew out, but the Mariners got off to the early lead. Mariners 1 Yankees 0.

Giancarlo Stanton led off the second inning by doubling to the left-field wall. Luke Voit got hit by a 96 mph fastball on the right hand. Gleyber Torres flew out to right-center with Stanton advancing to third base. Gio Urshela struck out. Brett Gardner ground out to third, and the Yankees did not score. At the bottom, Tom Murphy ground out to Urshela. Jake Fraley struck out swinging. Luis Torrens hammed one to left for a single. Dylan Moore got a two-run shot into the left-center stands. Jake Bauers ground out to Torres. Seattle Mariners 3 Yankees 0.

The third inning was led off by Tim Locastro, who struck out swinging. LeMahieu lined out to second. Judge with five home runs in his last eleven games stuck out to end the half. Crawford struck out. Haniger singled to left just out of the reach of the diving Locastro. Haniger advanced on a wild pitch. Seager who homered struck out. France rolled to short to end the inning. Mariners 3 Yankees 0.

Gary Sanchez led off the fourth inning by battling with Gilbert finally flew out to left field. Stanton ground out to second. Voit stuck out on a slider way out of the box as the Yankees had another scoreless inning. At the bottom, Murphy stuck out. Fraley struck out looking. Torrens worked a two-out walk. Moore flew out to Gardner at the wall. Mariners 3 Yankees 0.

The fifth inning was led off by Gleyber Torres and lined out to left-center. Urshela lined out to third. Gardner struck out swinging to end the half. Bauer popped out in the bottom. Crawford lined back to Montgomery. Haniger struck out swinging for Montgomery’s first 1-2-3 inning. Mariners 3 Yankees 0.

Tim Locastro led off the sixth inning by struck out swinging. LeMahieu flew out to shallow center. Judge hit back to Gilbert, who put down 15 Yankees in a row. Seager led off the bottom of the sixth by chasing a Montgomery curveball. France struck out for Monty’s 9th strikeout of the game. Murphy lined out for another 1-2-3 inning for Montgomery.

With Gilbert still on the mound in the seventh inning, Sanchez hit a really long foul ball just off the pole caught by a young Seattle fan. Gilbert was keeping the Yankees hitters off balance and swinging late on most of his pitches. Sanchez lost an 11 pitch at-bat hitting to short for the first out. Stanton struck out for Gilbert’s 17th straight Yankee put down. Voit popped out to center for 18 in a row for Gilbert. At the bottom, Montgomery, still on the mound, faced Fraley, who tapped back to Montgomery. Torrens hit hard right to LeMahieu. Moore walked, ending Montgomery’s day with a season-high 105 pitches. He was replaced by Justin Wilson, who gave up five runs in his last outing without recording an out. Moore stole second. Facing Bauer, Wilson got him to pop out to second for the longest inning of the game. Mariners 3 Yankees 0.

The eighth inning was led off by Torres facing the new Seattle pitcher Paul Sewald, and he struck out on a fastball right down the middle. Urshela flew out to center. Gardner struck out to end the half. Wandy Peralta pitched the eighth facing Crawford, who grounded to Lemahieu. Haniger homered to left his 19th of the season. Seager struck out swinging. France ground out to second bring the game to the ninth inning.

With last licks on the line for the New York Yankees with Locastro, LeMahieu, and Judge coming up, Locastro was pinch-hit by Rougie Odor, who popped out to shallow left. LeMahieu was hit by a pitch for the second Yankee runner of the game. Aaron Judge hit into a double play to end the game and hand the Yankees the shutout. The final score was the Seattle Mariners 4 and the Yankees 0. The winning pitcher was Logan Gibert, and the loser was Jordan Montgomery.

 

Did the New York Jets ‘finally’ solve their offensive line woes?

alijah vera-tucker, jets

Just one spot ahead of the New York Giants, the Jets ranked 31st in pass blocking efficiency last season, per PFF. In run blocking, they landed at 20th, thanks to a surprisingly successful performance by right tackle George Fant. Hopefully, with the insertion of UNC stand-out running back Michael Carter, the Jets will finally have a more committed running approach. With head coach Robert Saleh coming from the Kyle Shanahan system in San Francisco, it is possible they utilize a rotation of backs, exposing mismatches and running lanes.

However, the success of the Jets’ offense heavily relies on the protection of Zack Wilson in pass blocking. Considering how poorly they performed last year, the organization realizes it was a priority to upgrade the blocking personnel as much as possible. They brought in multiple new players, including USC versatile lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, veteran Morgan Moses, and a few depth pieces to help mitigate fatigue and supplement injuries.

Offensive line coach John Benton attested to the scheme fits in the trenches and the new faces the team has brought in:

“I get the feeling that everyone’s pretty excited about it [the wide-zone scheme]. It seems to be a good buy-in at this point across the board. The guys fit the scheme real well. I think they’re excited to see where it can go.”

Projected starting offensive line for the Jets:

LT: Mekhi Becton

LG: Alijah Vera-Tucker

C: Connor McGovern

RG: Alex Lewis

RT: Morgan Moses

Depth:

OT: George Fant

OG: Dan Feeney

OG/OT: Conor McDermott

OL: Chuma Edoga

OG: Greg Van Roten

Simply looking at the expected starting group, it is with confidence we can say Wilson’s protection should be improved. Considering what Sam Darnold had to deal with last year, being sacked 35 times over just 12 games, it was about time the team allocated significant resources toward the bolstering of the unit.

Tucker has shades of Quenton Nelson embodied in his style of play, and Becton is a big left tackle with the ability to maul pass rushers at the point of attack. A veteran like Moses should provide substantial experience and an upgrade at right tackle, despite Fant having a solid 2020 season. However, having adequate depth shouldn’t be overlooked; Fant will return to his swing tackle role, which he played with the Seattle Seahawks before joining Gang Green.

Ultimately, with the injection of new talent, players who have performed well in the past, like Conner McGovern, should return to form with more consistency around him. If the line can hold up and develop chemistry as the season progresses, Wilson could find himself exceeding expectations in his rookie season, which would be a sign of optimism for the future.

Former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt officially moving to flyweight

Cody Garbrandt (12-4) is switching things up. The former UFC bantamweight champion is saying goodbye officially to the weight class that made him a champion. Garbrandt’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, told MMA Junkie that Garbrandt is moving to 125 pounds.

Abdelaziz also followed up on Twitter saying that Garbrandt already has his first fight, but the UFC hasn’t announced it yet. Worth noting that this is the second time that Garbrandt has planned to move down to 125 pounds.

The former champion hit a rough patch in his career after claiming the bantamweight title. Garbrandt lost three consecutive fights by knockout and dealt with numerous injuries after becoming the UFC bantamweight champion.

At UFC 250 last June, Garbrandt returned with a vengeance when he knocked out Raphael Assuncao. After the fight was over, Garbrandt teased that he was thinking about dropping to 125 pounds to challenge for a second world title.

Garbrandt was booked to fight for the flyweight title at UFC 255, but a bicep injury and issues from COVID-19 forced him to pull out of the fight. Instead, Garbrandt decided to stay at 135 pounds. In May, he fought Rob Font and came up short in a headliner. Following the loss, Garbrandt once against thought about a move to 125 pounds.

Who will the UFC book him against?

Garbrandt dropping down is a big deal for the UFC’s flyweight division. Despite being just 1-4 in his last five fights, Cody Garbrandt is still a fan-favorite and a draw. He’s a very exciting addition to the flyweight division.

Now, coming off of a loss means that he’s not going to be challenging for the title right away. Well, at least you would think. I would be jaw-drop shocked if Cody Garbrandt is the first challenger to Brandon Moreno (19-5-2).

More than likely I think the new UFC flyweight champion might rematch with Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1). If Figueiredo doesn’t get the trilogy in his next fight, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the UFC pair up Garbrandt and Figueiredo.

The two men were supposed to fight for the title last year and they are both coming off of losses. This would announce Garbrandt’s addition to flyweight in a big way. With Abdelaziz saying that Garbrandt already has a fight, Figueiredo could be a good possibility.

The other leading possibility is a fight with top ten contender Kai Kara France (22-9, 1 NC). The City Kickboxing product recently tweeted out that he has a fight booked and the announcement was coming soon. Perhaps Kara France is going to welcome Garbrandt to the UFC’s flyweight division.

Sound off: Who should Garbrandt fight in his flyweight debut?

Yankees place starting pitcher on injured list, call up utility infielder

New York Yankees, Michael King

The New York Yankees are going through their yearly injury struggles, and this time around, they lost another starting pitcher in Michael King.

According to the Yankees’ PR department:

  • Placed RHP Michael King on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to 7/5) with a right middle finger contusion.
  • Recalled INF/OF Tyler Wade from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

King was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right middle finger contusion. An interesting injury that will hopefully only keep him out for a short period of time. The Yankees will have to supplement his loss in some way over the next two weeks or so.

At 26 years old, King has made 14 appearances this season, picking up four losses on the year. He currently holds a 3.72 ERA with an 8.75 strikeout per nine ratio. While King has looked better as the season progresses, he hasn’t represented an above-average talent who the Yankees can rely on with superior confidence.

As for Tyler Wade, the Yankees are looking to add a bit more speed to the batting order, and with the acquisition of Tim Locastro, they have done just that. Wade has appeared in 52 games this year, hosting a .224 average with 14 runs and two RBIs. He currently features his highest strikeout rate since the 2018 season at 26.4%.

With injuries beginning to pile up, general manager Brian Cashman must be planning a few big moves at the trade deadline, otherwise, the team will be squandering for healthy players when they desperately need to extract victories if they want their playoff hopes to remain alive.

Conor McGregor’s UFC 264 Prediction: ‘Dustin’s going out on a stretcher’

Conor McGregor, UFC

We are just a few days away from UFC 264 and the conclusion of one of the biggest trilogies in the history of the sport. Former two-division world champion Conor McGregor (22-5) and former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (27-6, 1 NC) will battle for the third time.

The series is one a piece with both men earning TKO victories. The last time these two fought was back in January at UFC 257. Conor McGregor started out well using his boxing and won the first round on all three scorecards.

However, Dustin Poirier weathered the storm and came back to score a massive TKO win in the second round. It was the first time in McGregor’s career that he had been stopped by strikes. UFC 257 proved that Dustin Poirier was much different from their first meeting.

Their first meeting took place at UFC 178 with McGregor picking up the first round TKO. That fight took place at featherweight and it was during McGregor’s meteoric rise to the top that saw him capture two world titles.

Today, McGregor sat down with Ariel Helwani to discuss his mindset leading up to UFC 264. McGregor appears more focused than ever and make no mistake about it, he plans on doing some serious damage to the diamond on Saturday night.

Mystic Mac’s UFC 264 Prediction

Despite losing at UFC 257, McGregor isn’t impressed with Dustin Poirier. McGregor said of Poirier, “He’s trembling. Even after the last win Ariel, ‘I don’t like this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore,’ imagine after your biggest win you saying that. He knows he got electrocuted in both rounds… I had him out on his feet in both rounds.”

As mentioned, McGregor did have a lot of success in the second fight. To be honest, I was incredibly impressed with the durability of Dustin Poirier at UFC 257. The Dustin Poirier that fought McGregor in 2014 wouldn’t have been able to take the shots that he did back in January.

However, this is not the same Dustin Poirier. This Dustin Poirier just might be the best lightweight on the planet now that Khabib Nurmagomedov is retired. That said, McGregor is not impressed and he’s back with his Mystic Mac predictions for UFC 264.

“Dustin’s going out on a stretcher, that’s my prediction. Going out of this fight on a stretcher. I’m not jumping the gun (On whether the fight ends early). I’m ready for it all, but he’s going out on a stretcher.”

Conor McGregor’s UFC 264 Prediction

Is Jonathan Loaisiga the New York Yankees’ closer of the future?

New York Yankees, Jonathan Loaisiga

Last night the New York Yankees picked up their third straight win as they defeated the Seattle Mariners 5-4. It was one of those games that made you a little nervous if you were a fan of the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees jumped out to an early lead of 5-1, but a three-run homerun cut the lead down to one with a few innings to go. At the beginning of the year, fans had little to nothing to worry about with the bullpen in a game like that. However, lately it seems that no lead is safe with the Yankees.

After a string of horrendous outings, the Yankees didn’t go to Aroldis Chapman last night. Instead, they went with an 8-9 combination of Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green. It was six up and six down with four punchouts for the two righties as the Yankees secured a big win. 

Despite all of the injuries and issues with the Yankees bullpen this year, Green and Loaisiga have been two gems. Both pitching to an ERA under 2.25 with WHIPs under one. If you can depend on anyone in the pen, it seems to be Loaisiga and Green.

If we look to the future, the Yankees have some decisions to make with the bullpen. Zack Britton has a team option at the end of this year which the team is likely to decline. They might even look to move him at the deadline if he can come back healthy.

Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green both have one more year under contract after this season. We all know the Yankees likely won’t bring back Chapman and Green could command a big premium. With that in mind, is Jonathan Loaisiga is the closer of the future?

The Next Great Yankees Closer?

When Loaisiga came up through the minors, he did so as a starting pitcher. The Yankees had envisioned Loaisiga as a guy who would come up and help with the rotation. However, he’s proving this year that he’s so much better out of the pen.

Loaisiga possesses nasty stuff with the ability to throw 100+ with movement and he has nice off-speed pitches to pair. Most great closers don’t come up through the system as relievers, but they do as starters. Even the great Mariano Rivera started out as a starter.

Loaisiga has developed multiple pitch options which makes him very dangerous on the mound as a reliever. The 26 year old has blossomed this year and I think he’s going to be a key piece of the bullpen moving forward. Loaisiga looks like he can turn into one of the best closers in the game with time.

Am I getting ahead of myself here a little? Of course I am, but what Yankee fan doesn’t think about the future of the ballclub. Loaisiga is under team control through the 2024 season. He’s got nasty stuff and he’s proving to be one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen.

While the closer role between the rest of this season and next likely belongs to either Green or Chapman, don’t be surprised to see Loaisiga get the role after 2022. With his stuff, he just might turn into the Yankees next great closer.

Sound Off: Do you think the Yankees should keep Loaisiga in the pen moving forward to be a future closer or should they try to put him back in the rotation eventually?

Don’t let anyone fool you, the Islanders were the Lightning’s toughest challenge in repeating as champs

If you were watching the last moments of the NHL on NBC’s broadcast of the Stanley Cup Finals, you would have heard something that would make you shake your head. And if you’re an Islanders fan, it probably made you laugh.

Keith Jones, an analyst that blue and orange supporters aren’t enamored with going back to his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, made a remark that the Florida Panthers were the Tampa Bay Lightning’s toughest challenge on their run this postseason to repeating as champions.

Not the Montreal Canadiens, whom they just defeated in the Finals. Nor the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that could be considered a lighter version of them Tampa themselves.

Nope, Florida.

Jones pointed out because there were scrums after almost every stoppage of play, how physical the series was from the start and the high-scoring games, that Tampa had to work extra hard advance past the first round.

Maybe this was just ignorance or jealousy on Jones’ part, but someone should have reminded him it took Lightning just five games to dispose of the Panthers. And look, that is not to say Florida wasn’t a tough opponent for the Bolts — they showed they’re no joke — but it’s not even in the same conversation to the war the Isles put Tampa through in their semifinal matchup.

After all, it was the Islanders who took Tampa the distance, having lasted seven games. It was the Islanders, who came one different power play away from knocking off the defending champs. And it was the Islanders who responded every time it seemed Tampa was going to run away with the series.

Lets look at the facts too. It was a nasty, intense, and brutal for all the players involved. Five of those seven matchups were all decided by a single goal. Only Game 2 and 5 was the goal differential different. But remember this: even in that Game 2 win for Tampa, it was a tie game late in the second period before Ondrej Palat’s “controversial” goal flipped the game in the Lightning’s favor.

To further the point, the last game between the two clubs ended in a 1-0 score on a shorthanded goal. A SHORTHANDED GOAL. That’s how extremely close the Islanders pushed the Lightning to the brink of elimination.

Oh might us remind everyone (especially Jones) too that the Bolts had to overcome an Isles’ club who was without their captain Anders Lee, a compromised J.G. Pageau — he played the series with a broken thumb — and a truly game Semyon Varlamov.

“When you win a championship or end up getting to play for one, you want to say you went through the best,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 7 a few weeks ago. ”

And I can honestly say here…the Islanders are as good a team as we’ve played in two years. And last year in Game 5, it goes to overtime, Game 6 goes to overtime. Nothing was easy. Not even the 8-0 in Game 5. It was unbelievably difficult. And the proud team they are, to come push on as they did at the end…that’s as close as two teams can be.”

If the coach of the winning squad heaps praise like that for his opponent, that’s got to mean something. Islanders fans can take some solace in knowing that they were the true final obstacle that Tampa needed to get through to win it all.

Some can say that the shoe is now on the other foot with the Lightning being in the way of the Islanders winning it all. Who knows, maybe the two teams make it a three-peat next year and face each other again. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

It’s not impossible either, despite the fact both organizations are going to see changes due to being hammered by the salary cap. But it goes without saying in these playoffs, the Islanders were the ultimate challenge for the Bolts.

They were the team that nearly ended their bid to repeat and made them work the hardest.