THE MORNING SKATE — Playoffs and Power Rankings

Kevin Schultz

If you’re just waking up this morning and missed the game last night, the Islanders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Bask in it, enjoy it, let it wash all over you, it has been a long time coming.

It was a wild thirty minutes last night, as the Islanders tied, then lost to the Hurricanes while two other important games were going on. At 9:24pm ET, John Tavares scored — credited to Okposo originally — off a Hurricanes defenseman with a little over a minute to go to tie the game up at 3-3. Okposo’s shift on that goal was a full 61 seconds, but even at the very end of it he was crashing the crease, helping to find the equalizer. At about the same time as this goal, the Rangers tied their game against the Panthers at 1-1 and the Jets closed to within one of the Capitals at 4-3. If those scores held, the Islanders were in.

The Islanders would go through an overtime where they had chances, an especially good one for Michael Grabner, but neither team was able to score. In the shootout, both Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner scored for Carolina to win the game 4-3 at 9:39pm. Barely two minutes later, at 9:41, Alex Ovechkin scored an empty net goal in Washington to give the Capitals the Southeast title and the Islanders a playoff berth. A Jets regulation loss coupled with the Isles’ overtime point hit their magic number of three.

“I’ve never felt better to lose a game,” Frans Nielsen told NHL.com.

At the top of the hour, 10:02pm, the Islanders got some extra help as the Panthers pulled out a win at Madison Square Garden in Florida. That kept the Rangers in eighth place. With a win, they would have tied the Islanders in sixth.

With two games to play, the Islanders sit in sixth and have locked up a playoff spot. Enjoy it, fans. You’ve earned it.

PLAYOFF TICKETS AND SCHEDULING
I’m going to address this since I know it’s on a lot of people’s minds, but I also want to preface this with the fact that there is nothing set in stone yet.

Earlier in the week, I reached out to the Islanders about a general on sale date for playoff tickets, but they did not have one set yet. I imagine we’ll see it announced in the next few days, now that they’re in and there’s nothing to be jinxed. Good on the team for waiting. Season ticket holders have already started receiving their tickets, which is why you may already see some for sale from ticket resellers.

As far as scheduling, the playoffs are set to start on April 30th. That means that the Islanders would likely start their playoff series on the 30th or May 1st. Depending on how the scheduling goes, they could be playing Game Three at the Coliseum on the following weekend, maybe the 4th or 5th. Media guru Steve Lepore hypothesized last night on Twitter that the Islanders could get on national TV if they play Sunday the 5th against an American opponent.

KNICKS OVERSHADOW ISLES
One of the drawbacks of clinching last night is that the Knicks had a big win at the Garden to go up 2-0 in their series against the Celtics. That overshadowed the Isles on the back cover of Newsday today:

POWER RANKINGS
Your weekly roundup from Mike J:

ISLANDERS ARE IN! And yes that all that matters, but it still fun to check out what they are saying around North America about everyone’s favorite underdog.

Respect seems to be coming, albeit slowly, as the Islanders have even cracked the top 10 in two lists; SI.com at 9th and the NY Post at 8th, which is their highest ranking of the week. The lowest is now Fox Sports where they still have them at 15th. (They must be mad the Isles don’t play on FSNY anymore). All but the hockey news have them moving up (unchanged) and four of them had them moving up 4 places.

This week, two of the power ranking publications dedicated their power ranking lead in story (and headline) to our beloved Isles. The Hockey News, with the headline: “Isles exceed all expectations”, and CBS with the headline: “Surprise Islanders finally moving forward”.
A running theme all week in the national press has been the “JT for MVP” stories. Three of the Power Rankings summaries below bring that up as well.

Here they are:
Bleacher Report: 12th up from 14th last week.
What they say: “The Islanders have made a statement by winning eight of its past 10 games. They want to make the playoffs. Now! New York’s only losses in April have come in a shootout against Washington, one of the hottest teams in the league, and the super talented Rangers in overtime. I’m sure this club would love to get the No. 7 seed and take a jab at one of those middling Northeast Division teams in the first round.”

CBSSports.com: 11th, up from 14th.
What they say: “Seeing how they’re the Islanders, I think a lot of people expected them to fall flat on their faces. Instead they have gone 11-1-2 in the last 14. Plus, they’re just really fun to watch now.”

ESPN.com: 11th, up from 13th.
What they say: “The Isles continue to write an incredible story to this season, going on a 11-1-2 run, including a dramatic shootout win in Winnipeg on Saturday. John Tavares is now front and center in discussion for the Hart Trophy.”

FoxSports.com: 15th, up from 16th.
What they say: ” The Isles are the hottest team in the East outside the Caps at the moment. The Islanders have not made the playoffs in six seasons and, just a few weeks ago, that trend looked like it would continue.”

Hockey News: 12th, Unchanged.
What they say: “All three of Isles’ final regular-season games are on the road, but that’s more than fine by them: with a 14-5-2 record away from home, only Pens (17-5-0) and Hawks (17-2-2) are better.”

New York Post: 8th, up from 12th.
What they say: “One of the hottest teams in the league, the Islanders are 11-1-2 in their last 14 games and on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. They’ve scored 14 goals in the past three games, and could actually move up as high as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.”

NHL.com: 11th, up from 14th.
What they say: ” Barring a collapse, the Islanders are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. During their current 11-1-2 push, John Tavares has established himself as a Hart Trophy candidate with eight goals, four assists and the shootout winner against the Jets on Saturday.”

Philly.com: 14th, up from 16th. What they say: ” With another two wins under their belts and the scoring tandem between Matt Moulson and John Tavares, the Isles are close to seeing another playoff run.”

SI.com: 9th, up from 13th.
What they say: “They’re not in yet, and the final three games are on the road. And until proven wrong, they are still the Islanders. Sorry, but the potential is still there for a heartbreak finish. These are still the Islanders. But come this weekend, I say the following will happen: there will be joy in Uniondale. As SI.com colleague Stu Hackel noted in a fine piece on the Isles, this hockey club has yet to lose in April, picking up 18 of a possible 20 points. And John Tavares deserves consideration for the Hart Trophy (but Sidney Crosby will still win it, it says here). New York’s best chance at cinching a spot probably will come Tuesday night in Carolina, with the final two games in Philly and Buffalo. Then again, none of those three teams will make the playoffs. The Isles can’t blow it now, can they?”

TSN.ca: 13th, up from 17th.
What they say: “11-1-2 in their last 14 games, the Islanders have hit their highest ranking since the second week of the season (when they were 12th). For all the Hart Trophy talk about how C John Tavares is single-handedly carrying the Isles to the playoffs, he’s one of three Islanders with five goals and one of five with at least eight points in ten games this month, so it’s fair to spread the credit around.“

And also, there was this ranking on NHL Network Monday night: