I was tempted to write this after the game yesterday, but held off. Now, after tonight’s season finale 6-2 loss to Boston, it’s official.
These final two weeks of the Islanders’ feel-good second half were a disaster. Disappointing. Troubling.
Respectfully, there comes a point when it’s no longer about injuries, lack of practice time, the Bridgeport shuttle and anything else you want to throw into the excuse machine. That point arrived this weekend, when the Islanders showed nothing on their Fan Appreciation Days to end the season.
In support of their 30th-place hockey team in this faded arena, the crowds were surprisingly large. Under no pressure but to give 30,000 fans a going-away smile, the home team came up shockingly small.
Buffalo, eliminated from the playoffs, crushed Carolina on Thursday and creamed Boston last night. The Bruins, with nothing to play for and with Zdeno Chara on vacation, walked into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Easter Sunday and out-worked, out-played and out-everythinged the Islanders in front of their fans. Inexcusable.
The bottom line is this: go ahead, write off April. That includes today, yesterday’s fight-free non-event against the Flyers, the 6-1 loss in Pittsburgh, 9-0 all-timer in Carolina, scraping by Tampa Bay last Saturday at home, the 5-1 embarassment to Montreal at the NVMC and 5-3 defeat in Washington on April Fools’ Day.
Fine. Pretend none of it ever happened. Tell yourself it was all about the goaltending.
And then while you’re at it, burn the tapes of 2-0 in Detroit, 4-2 in Chicago, the home wins against Brodeur and the Devils and most of the feel-good wins that came before the April storms. Look it up: were the lineups from this weekend compared to those wins markedly different?
After today’s game, Scott Gordon blockered a question about any home stretch distaste souring his team’s happy second half recap. “I’ve got some thoughts on that,” said the coach, “but it’s time to put the season behind us.”
Fair enough. Gordon certainly knows his team better than anyone else. He is very optimistic about the direction of the team, and players like Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit and Frans Nielsen give him every reason to be.
Still, many fans and observers were labeled buzz-kills for not getting all lathered up about some of those second-half wins with nothing on the line. What do we say now? Were these last two weeks all about the goaltending? Were they simply the result of a thinned-out lineup hitting the wall?
The Islanders better hope so.
ETC: After Gordon mentioned in the post-game how the return of Rick DiPietro could make a huge difference next season, I asked the coach if he’s talked to the goalie recently. “He’s upbeat,” Gordon said of DiPietro. “I don’t have the specifics of a timetable for you, but we’re optimistic. Rick fully expects to be on the ice in mid-summer.”
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