*The New York Islanders were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but here at the New York Sports Hub, we are turning back the clock to provide a recap of each month of the 2014-15 Islanders season.
Had you told a New York Islanders fan back in December that come April 1st, the Islanders would be in the midst of a horrendous stretch of bad play that would threaten their playoff chances…well given the fatalistic nature of Isles fans that probably wouldn’t have shocked them all that greatly, but it still might have been an elaborate set up for an April Fool’s gag.
Yet come April 2nd, there the Islanders were, still on the outside looking in with regards to a playoff spot. Given how well they had played through most of the season, there was certainly a growing amount of panic amongst the more faint-hearted of Islanders fans that an epic collapse was in play, continuing a decades long tradition of futility and embarrassment.
Of course, one quick look at the odds and percentages showed that New York making it into the tournament was for all intents and purposes a certainty, but still there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and wrenching of garments.
What once had been a race for the top spot in the conference had given way to winning the division, which in turn eventually transformed into a struggle for home-ice advantage, before finally settling on a handful of teams doing their best job of limping into the playoffs. And it was in that second to last stage that saw the Islanders traveling to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on April 2nd seeking to pick up two crucial points.
One shootout loss later (after giving up yet another two goal lead), and New York returned to the Coliseum searching for answers against one of the worst teams in recent memory, the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo proved up to the task of continuing their efforts to lose as many games as possible, and the Islanders skated off with a 3-0 win before heading to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.
April saw the Islanders only play five games, but two of those contests will live on in Islanders lore for a variety of reasons….and unfortunately none of them positive. The aforementioned game against Philadelphia was emblematic of the emotional swings that the Islanders fanbase had experienced over the years: New York mounted a furious comeback after looking absolutely lost for two periods, and tied the game on an Anders Lee goal with 30 seconds remaining in the 3rd.
Just half a minute more, and the Islanders would have clinched a playoff spot, ending the consternation and helping to keep pace ahead of the Washington Capitals for home ice advantage in the first round.
What happened next still defies logic; with time winding down, Flyers center Brayden Schenn handled the puck to the Islanders blue line before throwing a weak wrist shot on Jaroslav Halak. It’s a play/shot that has been seen thousands of times by the casual fan, and while I exaggerate slightly, 99% of the time the game heads to overtime.
But this time, the Flyers caught hold of that 1%, as Halak completely muffed the attempted save and Schenn’s shot hit the back of the net. 5-4 Flyers, and a shocked Islanders team was denied yet again from punching their playoff ticket.
4 days later, the Islanders took to the Nassau Coliseum ice for the final time during a regular season game. A victory the night before against the Pittsburgh Penguins had mercifully ended any question of if the Islanders would miss the playoffs, but there was no doubt that the final regular season game at the Coliseum was as much of a “must-win” as any bout ever featured in Nassau County.
The pre-game festivities and montages and reminiscing from Islanders greats was a very present reminder that this was no ordinary experience, and it was easy to see that emotions were running high amongst every single person in that building.
From the drop of the puck, it was clear that the Islanders were feeding off of the raucous, sell-out crowd as they pumped shot after shot on Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney. And for 3/4th of the game, it seemed as if the Islanders would make sure the Old Barn saw a victory to close out the final season, but again as was the case for the Islanders through the latter parts of their campaign, that just was not in the cards.
Fluke Blue Jackets goals on Jaroslav Halak shifted the momentum back to Columbus, who would erase a two goal lead in the 3rd period to force overtime, before eventually winning in the shootout. Islanders fans walked out with the knowledge there were still more games to be played in Nassau, but it was still one of the most disappointing losses the fanbase had ever experienced.
And so we come to the end of our month by month look at the 2014/15 regular season for the New York Islanders. In many ways it was easily the best Islanders season since the Dynasty years, seeing long time franchise records fall to new and exciting Islanders players, and the sense that even with a disappointing 7 game playoff series to the Washington Capitals that there is hope. It truly is a shame that whatever comes of that hope won’t take place in the Nassau Coliseum, but for now the New York Islanders move towards a new future in Brooklyn. October can’t come soon enough.