Three lessons the New York Jets can learn from their Islander friends

The New York Jets have been staples of the Islanders’ postseason tour on Long Island. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two along the way.

In following the New York Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Jets have traded in green and white for blue and orange. They’ve engaged in (Bud) light debauchery and have gone viral in the process as the Islanders are halfway through their quest for a fifth Stanley Cup hoist.

The next step of the journey begins on Sunday afternoon when the Islanders battle the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. ET, NBC). Nassau Coliseum will host the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series, and it’s very likely that members of the Jets will attempt to take their usual seats for those contests. 

Is it possible that, in their fun, they might actually learn a thing or two along the way?

Class is in session, courtesy of ESM…

Have Depth Stars

On Long Island: Save for Mathew Barzal (appearances in the last two exhibitions), the Islanders are not a team of perennial All-Stars. John Tavares’ absconding for Toronto was supposed to be their downfall, but they’ve responded with playoff series victories in three consecutive seasons while the Maple Leafs have been relegated to opening round exits.

The Islanders are a team that has gotten by with a group of gritty, skilled players whose union has worked wonders. Nothing showcases their depth and consistency better than the grouping of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, a trio of bottom-six forward staples since 2014. Nicknamed the “Identity Line”, NYI head coach Barry Trotz says that the group sets the tone for what they’re trying to accomplish on the ice.

“They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want,” Trotz said after a dominant January 2019 over Tampa, per Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com. “They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity. If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

In Florham Park: The Jets tried to go the big-spending route over the last few seasons, but marquee signings have not panned out. Right now, they’re actively paying Le’Veon Bell and Trumaine Johnson to keep their distance, for example.

Blessed with one of the highest offseason budgets in the NFL, it would’ve been easy for the Jets to fall to temptation and spend big money on a blockbuster talent (i.e. J.J. Watt). But once it became clear that the big names wanted to move on to contenders, the Jets bolstered their depth so more parts of the depth chart provide production and security.

This offseason has still seen some big contracts bestowed…Carl Lawson and Corey Davis are a combined $26 million cap hit…but many others signings have been about providing depth. They’re not the flashiest arrivals by any stretch, not the type of names that one can put on a parking lot light pole’s banner, but they’re the type of depth options the Jets needed at this point in time.

Jarrad Davis is a redemption-seeking first-round pick whose success in the 4-3 sets of the Florida Gators could come up big. At receiver, Davis is one of several names with the potential to become a No. 1 target. Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder return from last year’s team, while Elijah Moore was drafted in the second round. Uncertainty lingers at tight end and in the secondary, but the Jets’ thriftiness could pay big dividends, as undrafted free agents Kenny Yeboah and Isaiah Dunn could come up big.

Make Sure Special Teams are Special

On Long Island: Since Trotz took over in 2018, the Islanders have improved by leaps and bounds in almost every major statistical category with the exception of their power play. New York ranked 20th in the final regulars season rankings with a man advantage, though they were the only team in the NHL that did not allow any shorthanded goals.

The Islanders, however, rose to the occasion on the penalty kill, coming home sixth in the category over the regular season. Doing it in the postseason has been a work in progress…they’ve killed off only 61.5 percent of their infractions…but the power play came to life in spectacular fashion in Monday’s Game 5 showdown in Boston. Facing a Bruins squad that led the league with an 86 percent kill rate during the regular season, the Islanders scored three power play goals that forever changed the course of the series. Barzal scored on a chance in the first period, while Kyle Palmieri and Jordan Eberle earned extra-man tallies in the second.

The power play success not only provided the difference in the goal category but more or less shifted the entire course of the game. Taking advantage of the opportunities allowed the Islanders to not only withstand a late Boston rush, but they were able to earn a momentum-shifting victory on a night where they were outshot 44-19.

In Florham Park: There’s major hope for the Jets entering the 2021 season, even if reaching the playoff is still a tall task for the time being. But there’s no doubt that they’re still developing, still a work in progress, particularly on an offensive end that’s debuting a new quarterback and receiving corps. Thus, special teams must be addressed.

Confidence for a developing offense can be built by getting points on as many drives that end in opposing territory as possible. That comes through reliable field goal kicking, an area where the Jets have fallen woefully short since Jason Myers left for Seattle. Chris Naggar has been brought in to compete with incumbent Sam Ficken for that role. General manager Joe Douglas has shown that he’s not afraid to use valuable assets to address special teams. He used the last pick of his first draft to pick up punter Braden Mann and has tried to fill in the Jets’ Andre Roberts-sized void at returned through additions in the 2021 draft (i.e. Michael Carter).

Perhaps the most telling sign of Jets management’s willingness to bolster the special unit came through the retaining of coordinator Brant Boyer, who has now survived the purges of both Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s doomed staffs.

It All Starts at the Head

On Long Island: Again, no one expected the Islanders to be in his position three years ago. This, after all, was a team that just lost the face of its franchise, perhaps the one thing it had going for it since the immortal early 1980s.

The hire of Trotz in 2018, however, may go down as one of the most fateful moves in franchise history.

Trotz had already developed a reputation as a strong nurterer of young talent and helping woebegone franchises find their path. He put the Nashville Predators on the NHL map as the franchise’s original head coach (serving 16 seasons at the helm after their 1998 inception). He then moved on to Washington, where he helped the Capitals removed the playoff monkey from their backs. Only under Trotz has Alex Ovechkin been able to reach hockey Nirvana in the Stanley Cup Final.

Once Trotz was voted out of Capitol Hill due to a contract dispute, the Islanders pounced and have been reaping in the benefits ever since. Under Trotz, the Islanders have won playoff rounds in three consecutive seasons for the first time since their quartet of Cup hoists (1980-83). Trotz’s status as a players’ coach that is nonetheless willing to hold his guys accountable has been a delightful contrast to the recent slew of also-rans. Doug Weight’s animated style, for example, was refreshing when he first took the reins but it quickly ran its course.

Trotz credits his success to looking at his status as a head coach as not a position of superiority, but one that leads to a partnership with his players.

“I look at coaching, my time, as I’m in a partnership with the players,” Trotz told Mollie Walker of the New York Post in March. “We’re in a partnership to win hockey games. The other partnership is to make you the best version of yourself, whatever that version is.”

In Florham Park: There’s no doubt that, despite the nine-win ledger, that the Jets had some talent on their roster over the last two seasons, better known as the Adam Gase era. Look no further than the names the Jets gave up on before him: Robby Anderson, Avery Williamson, Le’Veon Bell, and Steve McLendon accounted for only part of the list. But help has arrived in the form of Robert Saleh,  whose hiring has been universally praised.

The difference between the arrivals of Saleh and Gase are best contrasted by player reaction to the news. While Gase’s landing was met with mostly indifference…and whatever honeymoon there was quickly ended when he won a power struggle against Mike Maccagnan…Saleh’s arrival has been praised by players both domestically and abroad. It’s created an energy field in Florham Park not seen since, arguably, the Rex Ryan days.

“You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” former Saleh pupil Richard Sherman said of his potential as a head coach in December, per the Associated Press. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”

As the Gase era showcased all too well, talent means nothing when the right man isn’t in charge. Though vital downs have yet to be played, it’s safe to say the Jets feel that they have found the perfect curator and developer in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets’ Dan Feeney unveils charitable shirt in support of Islanders

The game day antics of the newly minted New York Jets blocker during the Islanders’ playoff run will now move toward a good cause.

If the New York Islanders’ ongoing playoff run ends with a hoist of the Stanley Cup, the team may have to put Dan Feeney’s No. 67 sweater in rafters at UBS Arena next season.

Feeney, signed by the New York Jets as an offensive line free agent, has gone viral for his raucous celebrations of Islander goals. He and his new offensive teammates have been frequent guests at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders sit nine wins away from their fifth championship.

Feeney’s fandom has hit a new, charitable level as the Islanders attempt to close out their quarterfinal matchup against the Boston Bruins tonight in Uniondale (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The former Los Angeles Charger has teamed with Isles Lab, an NYI fansite and store, to sell t-shirts bearing Feeney’s likeness from a minimalist view. Bearing the Islanders’ circular logo on the back, Feeney’s mullet and mustache are prominently displayed. New York holds a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series after a 5-4 win on Monday in Boston.

The description for the shirt makes sure to note that a “can of refreshing beverage (is) not included”, referencing Feeney’s propensity to down his beer in ecstasy after New York goals. It also unites the scoring celebrations for both the Jets and Islanders, declaring “Yes! Yes! Yes! Jets! Jets! Jets!”.

At Feeney’s request, proceeds from the shirt will benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a New York City-based non-profit. Feeney has previously supported the organization through the NFL’s “My Cleats, My Cause” movement.

Feeney, a third-round pick of the Chargers in 2017, has mostly been used as a depth option but has gained a strong reputation for his lively personality, one only bolstered by his now-iconic appearance. He is expected to compete for one of the primary roles on the interior of the Jets’ offensive line.

The winner of the Islanders-Bruins series will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning for a berth in the final round. Tampa Bay previously ousted the Islanders in six games in the semifinal round en route to their second Cup triumph in the Edmonton bubble last fall.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Scott Mayfield has made big strides this postseason for the Islanders

There’s been a lot to be excited about as the New York Islanders during their run in the playoffs. That includes the progression from one player who has been a big part of the steadfast defensive core they’ve built in recent years, Scott Mayfield.

Mayfield, despite a few setbacks (or broken sticks to be specific), has made some big strides since the Isles have started bubble play at both ends of the ice.

In 21 games, Mayfield has recorded five points and is a +13 overall, which is the best on the team. Three of those five points too came at the tail end of the previous series against the Flyers. He’s totaled 23 shots, showing he hasn’t been afraid to try and get in on the offense.

Mayfield’s lone goal in the playoffs — the game-winner in game seven against Philadelphia — was a beautiful wrister and a shooters shot.

From a defensive standpoint, Mayfield looks a lot more comfortable. As opposed to his defensive partner Devon Toews — who was very solid through the first half of the team’s run but has struggled a bit as of late — Mayfield’s been sharper in his own zone and used his size and physicality to his advantage.

His hits (46) and blocks (45) are right at the top for the club, according to quanthockey.com. Mayfield’s also done a terrific job on the penalty kill as a part of the first unit with Adam Pelech, Cal Clutterbuck and J.G. Pageau. They’ve been responsible for helping the team only allow 12 goals on 76 opportunities shorthanded.

Has Mayfield too had his moments where he’s had trouble? Yes. But that comes with the territory when a team gets as far as the Islanders have.

Still, there’s been way more positive than negative.

It’s interesting that it’s turned out that way too because before the regular season paused back in March, the 27-year-old Mayfield looked as if he had taken a step back.

When Pelech went down in early January with an Achillies injury, it left a huge void and it really allowed things to get discombobulated for Mayfield and the d-corps as a whole. During that period, Mayfield was missing assignments and he stopped playing with a physical mindset. He looked as if he was trying not to make a mistake instead of being more loose and confident with and without the puck.

Those struggles from Mayfield feels like they were years ago as compared to just seven or eight months ago. Now, he looks again like the solid defender who was one of the biggest suprises from the season prior and the steady presence whom head coach Barry Trotz came to trust in important situations.

As the Islanders get set for another do-or-die Game Six tonight against the Lightning, they are going to need all hands on deck. They are going to get Tampa’s best game, with or without their star forward Brayden Point.

That means getting a strong showing from the likes of Mayfield as he’s done for a while now. He’s been one of the exciting developments from this run. And the strides he’s made have been great to see.

 

 

Johnny Boychuk’s leadership was on full display in his return last night for the Islanders

New York Islanders, Johnny Boychuk

A lot of people were waiting for Johnny Boychuk to make his return for the New York Islanders. It finally came last night.

After he had not suited up since game one of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers, where he suffered a concussion after taking a high hit from Florida’s Mike Matheson, Boychuk finally got the call from head coach Barry Trotz to go back into the lineup.

Boychuk didn’t disappoint in his first game back, which just happened to be the biggest of the postseason for his team; the Islanders were appearing in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals trailing the series 3-1to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In only the fashion he knows how, the 16-year vet led by example with a throwback, workman-like performance as the Isles forced game a six with a 2-1 win in double-overtime on a Jordan Eberle goal.

“He brings a presence for us,” said fellow defensemen Ryan Pulock. “He goes out there, he blocks shots, he plays tough. We knew when he was getting his opportunity, he was going to step in and do his job. Big block early on the kill, and just playing hard. That’s what we expect from him, and that’s what he did.”

That presence Pulock was referring to was felt early and often. Boychuk’s crucial block on a one-timer from Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov at the end of the Lightning’s first power play of the night basically saved a possible goal. The block too, not only stopped a scoring chance, but Boychuk took the wicked slapper off the chest and immediately hunched over in pain. Talk about being welcomed back to playoff hockey.

 

Boychuk wasn’t done yet though.

Towards the end of the first frame, he blocked another shot — the second of his team-high six — only this time, he ended up losing his blade because of it. That moment also came with the Lightning buzzing, helping to keep them at bay as the period winded down.

After that eventful first, Boychuk’s name wasn’t heard much the rest of the night. Despite not seeing the ice much — just 12:04 to be exact — Boychuk’s leadership still reined throughout the game and it most certainly had an impact. Boychuk’s “energy” which Trotz alluded to — from he having gone through a situation like the one the Isles were tasked last night and because he’s been with the team for a long time — also helped give the team a much-needed boost.

“Johnny’s one of those unique guys you come across,” Trotz said following the victory. “He’s old school. He’s one of the most likable guys you’re ever going to meet. One of the most committed guys. He’s got welts all over his body. Just gives you everything he has night in and night out. He’s fearless.”

Seeing how Boychuk performed in Game five also shouldn’t come as something new to many. Ever since he became an Islander, he’s been the consummate definition of what this team is all about — hard work and a team-first mindset. It was that way five years ago when he went toe-to-toe with Alex Ovechkin in the postseason and its the same way now. Last night was just another moment of what makes him one of the most respected leaders in that room.

“He’s really a little bit of a leader and a father figure for a lot of the young guys,” Trotz added.  He’s always taking people around him.”

There should be no doubt Boychuk should be in for game six. The 11F/7D format seemed to help the Islanders, with he being that extra blueliner. But more than just that, it was Boychuk’s leadership which spoke more volumes than anything. It was clearly on full display and the Isles benefitted immensely from it.

Adam Pelech’s postseason not talked about enough among Islanders’ run

New York Islanders, Adam Pelech

When the New York Islanders take the ice tonight, they’ll be fighting to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive. How they’ve gotten to this point — game five of the Eastern Conference Finals — has been talked about at length. And while most of it has been about the goaltenders, the incredible postseasons for Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Matt Martin, or even his so-called “replacement” back when he was hurt (Andy Greene), one element that maybe hasn’t received maybe the same amount of attention is how sturdy Adam Pelech has been.

The 26-year-old Pelech has been the team’s best d-man and he’s re-affirmed the notion he’s one of the most underrated blueliners in the sport.

Pelly is hitting his stride,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said about him during the team’s first-round matchup against the Washington Capitals.

In that series, which the Isles won decisively in five, Pelech did an excellent job shutting down Caps star Alex Ovechkin. It was really a masterclass in defending one of the games’ greatest goal-scorers; a repeat of Pelech’s work in the playoffs last spring in the first round against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Islanders D as a whole only allowed seven red lights the entire series, with the goals only coming from Ovi and two other Capitals’ forwards (T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov).

Pelech though was the real star of the series.

“All those instincts that make him a good defender are getting acutely sharp,” Trotz added.

But it hasn’t been just the series against Washington where Pelech has thrived. Really it’s been the entire playoffs, even with the step up in competition this round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The numbers might not look great — and that’s what usually comes about when you’re going up against Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point most of the time — but Pelech has been able to hold his own. He even scored his first-ever postseason goal in the Islanders’ only win of the series in game three, something Isles fans are not used to seeing. A heck of a snipe too past one of the NHL’s elite goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

While Pelech still might not be a household name, it’s crystal clear how much he means to the Islanders and what they’ve been able to accomplish in the bubble. All you have to do is go back and look at who the Islanders are as a team when he’s in the lineup as compared to when he was sidelined with what was potentially a season-ending Achilles injury before the coronavirus pandemic hit back in March.

“He’s a big part of the team. He’s been a big part of the success we’ve had here,” his d-partner Ryan Pulock said about him last month. “When we found out that those guys who were hurt were all ready to come back, we knew it would give us the best chance to have success and it was big for us.”

The Isles have made big strides this postseason, and Pelech deserves credit for a good amount of it. He’s been the one in the background just continuing to get the job done. His play hasn’t been talked about enough.

Not anymore.

 

The Islanders’ fourth line continues to live up to its name despite another loss

There’s a reason the New York Islanders are known for having the “best fourth line in hockey”.

They simply cause havoc and can change the dynamic of a game.

It was evident once again last night in the team’s crushing 2-1 loss in game two to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Needing a big-time start, following just an embarrassing effort in game one Monday night, Islanders’ head coach Barry Trotz deployed the Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck (a game-time decision) trio early in the game. And what did they do, they came through as advertised.

Martin, who had just five goals the entire regular season, got the Islanders an early lead when he chipped one over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shoulder off a great feed from Nick Leddy.

That goal marked Martin’s fifth goal of the postseason.

From there, that entire line was off and running. They were the Islanders’ best line by a mile last night. That trio combined for five shots, 18 hits, and one fight when Martin dropped the gloves with Bolts d-man Luke Schenn.

What we witnessed from that trio in the loss shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone whose been around the Islanders for a long time now.  Ever since that “Identity Line” as Trotz likes to refer to them as first became a thing, they’ve been one of the more prominent threesomes people identify the Isles with. They’ve been lauded for how cohesive a unit they are and because they play the game how it’s supposed to be played — hard-nosed, physical, balls-to-the-wall.

In this postseason run, the threesome has continued to live up to that billing. Whenever the Isles have needed a big moment, it’s been those guys who have stepped up. Martin — as previously mentioned — has scored huge goals; so has Clutterbuck. Cizikas, despite not scoring, has made his impact on games with his relentless motor and hows he’s thrown his body around.

“We always talk about them as the fourth line, but they are a very useful line for us,” Trotz has said about the trio in the past. “They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want. They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity,” If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

The fourth line is the engine which makes the Islanders go. Before the bubble, the team struggled mightily at times during the regular season as a result of the line not being totally together. A part of that had to do with Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck being sidelined at various times of the year.

Now that they are healthy though, you see why have earned their reputation from around the league. And the Isles are going to need them to keep going pedal to the metal if they want to get back in this series.

After last night, they are now down 2-0. Game three is tomorrow night, and the hope is they can come away with a victory and make this a brand new series. One way they can do that is the fourth line just doing exactly what they did last night and all postseason.

Being the best and making the opponent’s lives miserable.

Islanders can show again how resilient a group they are with a win tonight

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

We’ve learned a lot about the New York Islanders this postseason.

We’ve come to know how good a team they are, how well-rounded their roster is, and just how much their defensive structure and intense forecheck can drive teams mad.

But, the biggest thing which might resonate from their playoff run once it does come to an end was how resilient a bunch they were when things didn’t go their way.

Because that’s exactly what the Isles have been — resilient.  It’s been their trademark ever since they entered bubble play 38 days ago.

Heading into tonight’s pivotal game two tonight, the Islanders have the chance to show their resolve and pushback once again. And it’s imperative they have it after what happened on Monday night.

Two nights ago, in game one against the Lightning, the Isles were embarrassed 8-2. They didn’t come ready to play, nothing went right for them — beyond Jordan Eberle getting his first goal in a long time — and it was their worst game of the entire playoffs. It was also a wake-up call of sorts too.

“We were caught in between a little bit, we were just not as sharp,” head coach Barry Trotz said of told the media yesterday. “To me, that’s a sign of mental focus, mental fatigue. This team is much better. I know they’ll respond.”

Responding to adversity hasn’t been hard to come by for the Isles to as the playoffs have worn on. They are, after all, 3-1 this postseason after losing a game. In each of those games too, the Islanders have also come out with their most complete efforts. This Lightning squad provides a bit of a different challenge, though.

As the class of the East, and in their third Conference Final appearance in the last five seasons, the Bolts are fully aware of what to expect when the puck drops tonight.

“We know the Islanders are going to be better,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday.

Therein lies why it’s even more crucial for the Isles to bring that certain mindset this evening.

Tampa will be ready. But then again, so will the Islanders. That aside, coming away victorious could prove huge as the series moves forward.

“We get [Wednesday’s] game and it’s a completely different series,” said Mathew Barzal yesterday.

Barzal isn’t wrong.

The Islanders can change this series on a dime and gain the momentum with a huge effort tonight. How they do that is by showing the kind of team they’ve been nearly the entire playoffs.

That means being resilient and finding a way to win.

 

Nothing went the Islanders’ way last night….except one thing

New York islanders, Jordan Eberle

Amid the New York Islanders getting run out of the building last night in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final, not all was lost.

Jordan Eberle, who couldn’t buy a goal during the team’s second round victory over the Flyers, finally struck pay dirt.

Eberle’s first period tally was one of two Islander goals in the 8-2 thumping. The goal was also his first in 11 games.

Even in such an awful loss, Eberle getting the proverbial “monkey off his back” might end up being a pivotal moment for he and the team as they not only try to even the series tomorrow night but continue their run to the Cup Final.

As mentioned, he had been snakebitten or just couldn’t convert anything after his fluke goal beat Braden Holtby in game one of the first round while the rest of the offense was a bit more lucky. Now that he’s off the schnide means Eberle can grip his stick a little less tight and get back to playing more loose.

The pressure might have finally ceded for Eberle too. Just watch him after he got that goal, and you can tell he looked relieved. It was as a big moment for him.

From a team perspective, maybe Ebs’ goal reassures them that the winger’s confidence might be restored. There’s no doubt they could definitely use it, especially after the confidence they saw the opposition’s forwards boasted from the get-go last night.

Tampa’s top guys came flying out of the gates and flexed their muscles early and often. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point both ended the night with five points. Granted those numbers seem bloated because most of them came after the game was out of reach, but that still proves the Isles are going to need their forwards to have to match what those guys showed they are capable of.

That’s one of the ways the Islanders can win the series. In particular, getting that extra production from Eberle. The Isles rely on him for goals, and when he comes through like he did last night, they are a way better team and tougher to play against.

Eberle has been good for the Isles throughout this postseason. He’s got 13 points in 17 games, and he’s now got a four-game point streak and points in six of his last eight games. But the goals weren’t there.

He finally got one last night after a long drought.

On a night where nothing went good for the Islanders, this was a positive.

And who knows, it could loom large as the series moves forward.

For many Islanders fans, tonight is something many thought they would never see

Islanders, New York Islanders

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!

The Islanders would be smart to stick with Semyon Varlamov in goal

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

New York Islanders’ head coach Barry Trotz has a big decision to make as his team is set for a pivotal game three tonight.

Semyon Varlamov or Thomas Greiss in goal?

Varlamov, who had his first bad game of the playoffs in yesterday’s 4-3 overtime loss, was pulled with just more than five minutes remaining in the first period and was replaced by Thomas Greiss after he gave up three goals on ten shots.

This was the first action for Greiss since he split the exhibition game with Varlamov back on July 29th against the Rangers.

The change in goal, which Trotz said after the game was made to try and spark his team, did just that. The Isles battled back from down 3-0 to force overtime while Greiss turned aside all shots he saw through three periods.

In overtime though, Greiss was beaten for the game-winner by Flyers d-man Phillippe Myers after Myers’ shot deflected off Anders Lee’s stick and hopped past his glove.

Tonight’s game three could swing the series, but it would be wise for Trotz to go back to the well. And that means going back to Varlamov in between the pipes.

Here’s why.

Up until his rough outing in game two, Varlamov has been a rock for the Isles in net.

He’s looked extra determined in the team’s run and has let in very few bad goals.

Varlamov has also established a new franchise record for a playoff shutout streak (138:17), passing franchise icon Billy Smith. His goals-against average (1.76) and save percentage (.932) have been outstanding. And he has come up with some timely saves and dynamite performances in the bubble.

Varlamov’s second period performance in game one against the Flyers was also probably his most impressive of the playoffs.

“He’s (Varlamov) backed us up enough,” said captain Anders Lee following yesterday’s game.

But there’s more to Varlamov than just the numbers. He’s been a steady presence the few times the Isles have been under fire in the playoffs.

What helps now too is Varlamov has gotten that awful game out of his system and will be motivated to bounce back. Not to mention, he also received some much-needed rest by only playing 15:09 in game two.

If Trotz does tab Greiss this evening, it will definitely come as a surprise. Varlamov has gotten the Isles this far.

The team should go back to him. He’s earned it.