The New York Islanders have now tied their best of 7 game series with the Washington Capitals and have forced a game 7 in Washington on Monday evening. This, I firmly believe, is a shocker to some of the hockey media and so called “experts”. I have read in so many places and have heard the opinions of so many people who believed the “upstart” Islanders were going to be put down rather quickly by the bigger and badder, Capitals.
As a realist, I would never claim that I expect the Isles to win the Stanley Cup, but I have felt and still feel they are capable of winning the series against the Caps and going deeper into the playoffs. I will say, for the record, that if they do win tomorrow, they have a reasonable shot at taking the Rangers out in six games as well. Some may scoff at that statement, but I think the Islanders are one of the teams in the east that can beat the Rangers and did so 3 out of 5 games this season, and, if not for a bad bounce, probably would have taken 4 of 5 games from the blue shirts. When the Islanders play Their Game, they compete hard and they easily threw the Rangers off of their game. In particular, the forth line gave the Rangers fits several times, and I have no doubts they could cause as much trouble for the Rangers in a playoff series.
Nevertheless, we still have a game 7 tomorrow to deal with, and this series is still fresh on the minds of Isles fans. To me, it has been an emotionally draining six games, and I found myself filled with pride, rage, disgust and a whole bunch of other emotions as the games have been played. At times, I have also been stupefied by the things that have happened and the continued lack of respect the New York Islanders continue to receive from the NHL and the media. Yes, I want the Isles to win tomorrow so badly that words can’t describe how satisfied I’d be to have that happen.With that said, I figured that I’d toss out some random “blind observations” in the “old school” way I have done in the passed.These thoughts and opinions are a collection from the 6 games that have been played thus far and are in no particular order.
- Jaro Halak has given the Islanders everything they could have hoped for between the pipes. Maybe, he had a “bad game” in game 5, but his defense had a lot to do with that, as well as the team seeming to collapse. Overall, though, Jaro has made several big saves throughout the series, and if he steps up as he has in the past tomorrow, the New York Islanders will be playing in the next round.
- It does this “old school” hockey fan’s heart so much good when Matt Marten, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas play with the energy and intensity that has made them shine this whole season. They can bring the thunder, and yesterday’s game was certainly an example of the physicality that this team badly needs in this series. They’ll need to play with the same fire and ferocity tomorrow if the Islanders want to skate out of Washington with the series victory.
- It is clear that Washington is trying to use their greater size to intimidate the Islanders. I am perplexed to this day as to why Tom Wilson was not suspended for his hit on Lubo and how Washington players can defend a check in which a player left his skates and delivered a check to the head. This is exactly the type of thing that the NHL wants to deter, yet in the playoffs in my opinion, the Islanders got the dirty end of the stick. The Isles cannot allow themselves to be pushed around, and though they cannot get caught up in the retaliation game and Have to stay out of the penalty box, they still have to push back and deliver their own hits on guys like, Ovechkin and Backstrom in the same chippy manner.
- The power play has to score goals. It could have put the Caps away and there would be no need for a game 7 if they had, at least, one timely goal. Stop with the passing and seeking the perfect shot and just fire the bloody puck on net. Get the big bodies in front and just score goals. When they had success in the past, they kept it simple. Additionally, why the heck isn’t Johnny Boychuk out there with Nick Leddy?
- Nick Leddy has been a force of his own. I certainly believe in the value of the long term signing of Johnny Rocket, but make no mistakes, folks. Leddy has the wheels and gets the puck moving like few guys in the NHL can do. I believe he has 5 assists in the series thus far.
- With the absence of Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk needs to receive some praise as well. He has taken on the job of defending Ovie, and has gotten the job done so far. Again, the value of the trade to bring him here has been on full display during this series for sure. Jack Capuano has leaned heavily on Boychuk and Leddy, and they have gotten the job done.
- Give the defense, as a whole, a lot of credit. Being down 3 of the regular starters, Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield both played great games in big situations. They may have only gotten about 10 minutes of ice time, but they played with poise and effectiveness when they were out there.
- Make no mistakes about the importance of Mikhail Grabovski being back in the lineup. He played a great game yesterday, and his defensive and offensive contributions to the Isles could make a big difference tomorrow and if the boys can get to the next round. He does so many little things that go beyond the stats sheet.
- I am not a coach in the NHL nor do I play one on TV. You certainly cannot “argue” with the situation being one of the series now going to 7, but I will say that more of than a few lineup decisions has baffled me at times. This includes the power play units, as well as the healthy scratches from the game roster. Whether they win tomorrow night or not, I can plainly say that I have been left scratching my head at times as to the choices that have been made by the coaching staff …
- This is the time for JT to shine. Obviously, he is a marked man out there, and as usual, it seems he is allowed to be abused on the ice with little help from the officiating. Still, the best players overcome, and John Tavares scored the opening goal and assisted on the game winner yesterday. He and his line mates need to bring their A-game tomorrow and skate passed adversity and the attempts by the Capitals at roughing them up. At the same time, JT has to hold back on the retaliations and, maybe, pick a time later in the game to deliver a slash or a well-placed face wash. You don’t want to see your best player end up in the penalty box, but at some point, Tavares is going to have to bite back at some of these guys and drop the gloves.
- Finally, at some point, the puck luck has to start leaning in the direction of the Islanders. Yesterday’s game could have been Over in the second period, and even the game they blew in Washington could have been overcome if the blue and orange had just a little luck at times. It is amazing how pucks just don’t seem to bounce their way, and at some point, Lady Luck has to start smiling on them.
It all comes down to tomorrow night in Washington. Regardless of the outcome, it has been a great series and I am certainly proud of this team. I firmly believe they can win game 7, and I approach the game believing in the boys. If they can play Their game for sixty minutes, we will be writing and talking about a 2nd round appearance next week, and I wish Nothing more than for that to be the case.