With a run that I had hoped for (6-1-2 in their last 9), the New York Islanders look to be in the playoff race for the duration of the regular season, pending nothing tragic happens to their star players. As I continue to look at the standings, I can’t help but think back to the shortened season of 2013, where the Islanders found themselves without much help from their backup goalies and had to ride solely on their aging starter. Move forward in time and the Islanders seem to be in a similar situation, but I’ll add a little more drama to further my point. In all actuality, this really feels like 1994 all over again where it may take the last game of the season to clinch the last playoff berth.
This year has not been a good year for Islanders goalies not named, Greiss. Whether it is Jaro Halak, now banished to the Islanders AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers or rarely used and promoted to backup duties, J.F Berube, the Islanders are having trouble putting up wins when either one of those players are in net to give Greiss a day off. Some nights, it’s the goalies who forget to show up, and other nights the players forgot their was a game to be played, so there can be some sharing of the blame to go around. Nevertheless, despite the setbacks, the Islanders are in the thick of the playoff race. You can thank the Philadelphia Flyers inability to hold on to a pace of 95-100 points and finish a season for this blessing in disguise. With the recent unbeaten streak over and a two game winless streak now in hand, the it’s time for the Islanders to make a legitimate push forward and attempt to distance themselves away from the rest of the playoff pack. Easier said than done.
With 32 games to go, you can count on Thomas Greiss to play in at least 27 more games this year, a percentage of roughly 84 percent. Ironically back in 2013, then starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov started in 41 out of the 48 games in a condensed schedule, a percentage good for 85 percent. His backups, Rick DiPietro and Kevin Poulin, combined for a record of 1-6-0 and practically forced Nabokov and the Islanders to win almost every game. The Islanders would finish that season with 55 points (a 94 point pace over a full season) and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They would give the Pittsburgh Penguins a run for their money in the first round, but eventually lost in game six. The Islanders are right back to 2013, however I do feel that over the next 5 games that J.F Berube may play, I don’t foresee him or the Islanders going 1-4. Nevertheless, this season is going to ride squarely on the shoulders of Thomas Greiss.
So why am I bringing up 1994 of all years? Because it took the next to last game of the regular season to make it to the playoffs. Back in ’94, the Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 (game 83 of a 84 game schedule) to edge the Philadelphia Flyers and the newest expansion team, the Florida Panthers and make the playoffs. The Isles would play the Panthers in the final regular season game and lose 4-1 as the Islanders rested some players. The Islanders finished the season with 84 points, while the Panthers accumulated 83, and the Flyers finished with 80. However, it still set up a first round matchup with the Presidents Trophy winners, New York Rangers. The Islanders finished up with a regular season record of 2-1-2 against the Rangers that year, but I won’t bring up the playoffs and that slaughter. I’m emphasizing 1994 because at this juncture of the season, there are at least three other teams against the Islanders: the Hurricanes and yes, the Panthers and Flyers all have a legitimate shot at taking the last wild card to play in what is looking like a first round matchup against the Washington Capitals. Should the Islanders prevail, the Isles regular season record against the Capitals this year is 3-2 and like the Rangers of ’94, the Capitals are on pace to win the Presidents Trophy and are looking for a longer Stanley Cup run. No pressure.
So here’s the deal for the rest of the year. Most of you will remember 2013 and what it took to make the playoffs, solid goaltending from the starter. Guess What? The Isles are back in the same spot, only this time, the road to the finish line looks to be more like 1994 in the fact that the Panthers, and Flyers are chasing the Islanders once again for the final spot and the up-and-coming Carolina Hurricanes refuse to go away. Honestly, I’m usually not one for drama, but this is looking unavoidable. How do the Isles avoid the drama of 1994? Well, if they can pace themselves to be better than the 94 point pace the 2013 team were on, this years squad may be able to do what they did last year. The Isles clinched a playoff berth with three or more games to go and “rest” the players during the final two games. Until that actually happens, grab whatever you want to calm your nerves, practice yoga or try meditating, go to a shooting range, stock up on food or whatever works for you. Either way, strap yourselves in for a really crazy and wild finish. The race to 95 points begin tonight. Tomorrow I’ll go over the standings and see where all the teams are and I’ll write more about how it will effect the Isles as we approach the trade deadline.