Columnists, Sports

Behind the Glass: Expect the Islanders to make noise this postseason

John Tavares in a March 2018 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The absence of the former Islanders captain has not stopped the team from succeeding this season. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The New York Islanders recently clinched a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, making them the only team in the tri-state area to make it to the playoffs this year.

In a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on March 30, the Islanders clinched their spot in the postseason. They currently occupy the second spot in the Metropolitan Division, right below the Washington Capitals.

Looking to the three other New York and New Jersey area teams, the story is much different.

For the first time in 14 years, the New York Rangers, after being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on March 23, have back-to-back seasons in which they will not be playing in the postseason. The Rangers have only missed the playoffs twice between the 2005-06 and 2017-18 seasons: in 2010 and in 2018.

The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, have only made it to the playoffs once since their 2012 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings. That singular playoff appearance was in the 2017-18 season, when New Jersey experienced a short yet predictable 4-1 series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The team will be adding to the list of playoff-less seasons.

Despite a seventh-round shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks on March 15, the Devils were eliminated that same day after the Columbus Blue Jackets won 3-0 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The upstairs neighbor to the Rangers, Islanders and Devils, the Buffalo Sabres, will also see another season without a postseason run. After a strong start to the season that left fans saying “this is the year,” the team was eliminated in a 7-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on March 23. This will be the eighth season in a row Buffalo has missed the playoffs.

That makes the Islanders the only New York and New Jersey team to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, and you shouldn’t be surprised if they make a deep playoff run.

The Islanders have not made it past the second round of the postseason since 1993, and since that season, they only made it past the first round once, in 2016. In the 26-year span between 1993 and 2019, New York has failed to qualify 16 times, not including the 2004-05 lockout.

It’s long overdue the Islanders make a postseason run that lasts longer than one round, and they’ve proven they have what it takes to be a top-performing team this season.

New York has already defeated teams such as the Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and even the Tampa Bay Lightning during the regular season. While yes, they have also faced defeat from these teams, some of the victories New York has had have been shutouts or multiple-goal leads.

This signals this team has the capability to shut down strong offense and defense to earn big wins. There probably won’t be any series sweeps for them, but they have what it takes physically to get at least one or two series wins under their belt.

It’s not just the team’s play and current position that make this an opportune time for a deep playoff run — it’s the environment with which they’re surrounded.

It’s the fact that this season the team has had the opportunity to play many of its games at the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum, the place they called home for so many years.

It’s the roaring “we don’t need you” chants from fans directed at ex-captain John Tavares because after losing him to free agency over the summer, this season has proven the Islanders really didn’t need Tavares to be successful.

It’s a lively time to be a part of the Islanders organization, whether that’s as a player or as a fan, and I anticipate they’ll take advantage of that to deliver one of their most successful playoff runs in the past 25 years.

 

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