Tuesday night at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was Fan Appreciation Night, and for the first time in a while, the Islanders faithful finally have something to appreciate.
The Islanders won again Tuesday night, lighting up the Florida Panthers 5-2. The Isles got contributions from all over, including two pretty goals by Michael Grabner.
The latest win gave the Islanders 49 points, good for sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference and one point out of sixth. The Isles are now 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, and the playoff-starved fans on Long Island (and this one, who’s currently in New Jersey) are flying high. April the last five years at Nassau Coliseum hasn’t sounded like much of anything, because it’s been empty. However, these days, the old barn in Hempstead sounds like this.
The fan base is energized, and with good reason. The Isles haven’t made the playoffs since they snuck in as the eighth seed in 2006-2007, when folk hero Wade Dubielewicz led the team to an improbable late-season run. Now, they are in prime position to do so.
At the season’s outset, it didn’t seem like the Islanders would have much of a chance with the much-improved (or so we thought) New York Rangers, perennial-favorite Penguins, Flyers and Devils all in their division. However, the Isles have surprised everyone, and now have a magic number of eight points to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Any combination of eight points gained by the Islanders or lost by the Winnipeg Jets will put the Islanders into the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
The final push will not be easy though, as New York hits the road for their final five games of the regular season, including a huge game in Winnipeg this Saturday night.
There have been many individual players that have impressed this season. John Tavares, with 24 goals, is making a legitimate case to be the Hart Trophy winner. Evgeni Nabokov has been front and center for a goaltending crew that hasn’t allowed more than two goals in nine consecutive games, tying a franchise record that was set in 2001.
However, what has been most impressive about the Islander’s playoff push is the team aspect that has finally come together. Secondary scoring (as in goals from people who aren’t named John Tavares or Matt Moulson) is finally coming from players that we knew had potential all along. Guys like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are finally starting to come into their own after years of underachieving. This squad also has role players who do the dirty work, as Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald have all become fan favorites.
And let’s not forget Mark Streit. The captain since signing a deal in 2008, Streit has experienced zero success in the orange and blue. In the final year of that contract, he is finally in contention for a spot in the NHL’s big dance. Last night Streit addressed the Coliseum faithful after the win, thanking them for their support all season.Hopefully for Streit and the Isles, they’ll be back on the ice at the Nassau Coliseum sooner rather than later. As for now, they’ll take their act north of the border, with their next game Thursday night in Toronto.
Right now, the players are asking the fans to do one thing: beLIeve.