If you’re a New York Islanders fan 26 or younger, this is uncharted territory.
Tonight is something you’ve either dreamed about or simulated so many times paying EA Sports’ NHL franchise mode over the years.
The Isles with a chance to clinch their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals?
You read that right. I know, those words don’t seem to be real. But they are.
I can tell you — and this is brutal, raw honesty — two years ago when John Tavares left the organization to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on the first day of free agency, fans of this team were at the point of giving up. It could have been the final straw for a group of rabid, passionate and loyal people who had been kicked in the groin time and time again, and who had become the butt-end of everyone’s jokes from around the league.
You must be asking why bring up JT?
Because it was a defining moment for an organization that had two choices:
Pick themselves up or just keep fading into the abyss.
But that moment in time seems like it was decades ago.
Now, this fanbase and the team they live and die with are more unified than ever.
The Hall of Fame general manager (Lou Lamoriello). The head coach Barry Trotz. The team, a group of guys who fans have come to adore because of their hard work and brotherhood they show. Don’t forget a brand new home opening a year from now that will be the crowning achievement of fan-first ownership.
This is a different franchise. One that has made their fans proud to represent their blue and orange pride again.
That’s why tonight is so special.
It’s been 27 years since the last time the Islanders were this close to playing for a Stanley Cup. TWENTY-SEVEN!
That’s over a quarter of life for a human being. The amount of bad this franchise has had to endure since then, there could be numerous books written about it. I’m looking at you, Stan Fischler!
Seriously though, tonight doesn’t come around often, especially if hadn’t been there when the Isles were a powerhouse in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
This new generation of Islanders’ fans has gotten their teases too. Losing in seven to the Capitals in 2015 in the first round in seven games; losing in five to the Tampa Bay Lightning (their opponent in the next round if they win tonight) in the Semis in 2016; last year’s sweep of the Penguins, only to be swept by Carolina the following series.
This time feels different though. And it’s because of what the Islanders have accomplished in the bubble and how they don’t feel satisfied.
Just take the words of Josh Bailey, who is the longest-tenured member of the team.
”It’s been fun. But I think when you start reflecting on it at this point, it’s only going to hurt you. You just keep taking it day by day, making sure you’re prepared mentally and physically. Just be ready to go when the puck drops,” he said.
Bailey’s words ring true ring right in one sense. Don’t start reflecting now. But on the other side, reflecting on how long it’s taken to get to this point from an organizational standpoint shouldn’t be overlooked.
As the saying goes, “It’s been a long time coming.”
That’s what tonight is for Islanders fans.
A sight they thought they would never see.
Enjoy Game 5!