UNIONDALE, N.Y — There was a different feeling at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday as the Islanders said good bye. A feeling of hope and promise for the future, though the players were still lamenting from Game 6’s tough loss.
“It’s tough,” Matt Moulson said about being out. “It’s a crappy feeling obviously… I think you just replay all the games and shifts in your head. It’s almost mores stressful than playing. Actually thinking about all the stuff that went on and I think the only thing you can do is move on and get better and come back next year.”
Moulson has seen some highlights from saturday’s game, but he still hasn’t re-watched it in its entirety. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that one yet,” he said.
Matt Martin was equally as disappointed about not being on the ice any longer this season.
“It was hard for a lot of guys to watch hockey over the last few days and I’m sure it’s not going to get any easier,” he said. “It’s disappointing. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but we’re proud of what we accomplished this year and excited about moving forward.”
Martin, Moulson and the rest of the Islanders are understandably disappointed by the outcome of the year, but are already looking towards next year and what could be. Unlike this past season, the upcoming one will be a normal 82-game season and the squad knows that it will be slightly different than the 48-game one they just finished.
“It will obviously be more of a grind,” Josh Bailey said. “I don’t know if much changes, so I think maybe there will be a little more practice time for next year. Maybe that side of things will change, but an 82 game season certainly a lot more games being played and it’s more of a grind. Hopefully, knock on wood, we all stay healthy and give ourselves the best chance possible for next year.”
Michael Grabner noted that the Islanders will need to have more consistency next year. The team had inconsistent stretches this season and that will be something that will need to be addressed.
“82 games is going to be different than this year, so we can’t have any big lapses like we did the past two years,” Grabner said. “We have to come out strong, play consistent 82 games, and in the playoffs anything can happen.”
But looking back on this season, and the run the Isles had in final month and a half, is the respect the team has earned from around the league.
“I think we definitely made a lot of people aware that we’re here to compete,” Moulson said. “We’re not rolling over for anyone. We don’t care who we’re playing. You have to come back and do it again. You can’t just do it once. You have to come back and do it next year.”
Thanks to a negative perception around the league the Islanders have been viewed as a laughingstock. But thanks to the teams recent success things seem to be changing.
“No one took us seriously,” Martin said. “We were the butt of a lot of jokes for the three years that I’ve been here and that was hard for us. Obviously we take a lot of pride in what we do and to take the step we took this year and to kind of get that attention from the media, from the fans again was huge. Like I said, I don’t think anyone is going to take us lightly again next season.”
After the series against Pittsburgh, Islander head coach Jack Capuano said he received a “real nice” message from Penguins general manager Ray Shero. And John Tavares received compliments from the Penguins during the handshake line.
“Matt Cooke, Jarome Iginla said some nice things to me individually and I think our team as well,” Tavares told reporters. “Just about how hard we were to play against and it was battle. They knew it wasn’t easy and I think we gave them everything they could handle.”
But with new found respect comes new challenges and the Islanders realize that teams will be not be taking them for granted any longer.
“We’re not going to surprise anyone next year,” Kyle Okposo said in his final meeting with the media of the season. “I think this year teams may have taken us lightly, so that’s not going to happen. They’re going to bring their game when they come play us and we have to continue to get better.”
The Islanders will use the offseason to do just that and come back in September ready to get back to where they were. As Casey Cizikas said Tuesday afternoon, “it’s only 110 days until next season.”