Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It Follows

The final week of the New York Islanders' regular season was all things.  There were run-around-your-living-room-high-fiving-the-walls moments of excitement along with slumped-in-your-chair-staring-into-space-wondering-what-happened moments of despair.  Sometimes these things happened within minutes of each other.  The end result for the team was a playoff berth but not with home-ice advantage.  For me the latter was disappointing since it was a goal I'd cheered for since the midway point of the season.

That disappointment was diminished from earlier in the year.  I had recently convinced myself that the extra home game in the opening round wasn't a deciding factor.  I still believe that, but the way in which the Isles lost that advantage speaks to the larger narrative of how I've handled this breakout season as a fan.

As biased as I am, this final week has given me quite the example to cite when I try to explain why being an Islander fan is so exhausting.  I'm sure there are members of every NHL team's fanbase ready to denounce my opinion on this but even in my best objective attempts, I can't find a more stark example of passionate schizophrenia than this season.  The hockey world is well aware of the shoe-drop mentality of Islander fans.  Sure, followers of every team regularly feel like something bad is about to happen.  It's part of the joy/pain of sports.  However, for Isles fans it's not just feeling like something bad is about to happen, it's getting that feeling and then watching the bad thing actually happen.

All good teams go through slumps during the year.  It's usually injuries that cause the disruption, but even with a mostly healthy roster a team will have to endure extended stretches of under-performing.  But it's the timing that gets to Isles fans.  Ask any fan and nearly all of them would agree that such a streak couldn't have happened any other way or at any other time.  It's the Islanders and this is what happens.

Which brings us to that final week.

The Isles had a chance to clinch that elusive playoff spot by earning a point against the already-eliminated Philadelphia Flyers.  Even after all the mediocrity of the last few weeks, all those wins in the first three-quarters of the season had given the Islanders the cushion they deserved to weather the storm.  A road game against the Flyers never breeds confidence in any Islander fan even after a year such as this.  When the Flyers took a 4-1 lead into the third period, most of us had given in to fate.  While a loss wouldn't have dropped the Isles out of the playoff picture, it was another domino in the sequence.  The sky was falling and it was filled with shoes.

Then the Islanders - as they'd done a few times this year - brought us all off the ledge by breaking through with three late goals that tied the game with 30 seconds to go.  Isles fans didn't know what to do with themselves.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  When John Tavares won that faceoff and made a brilliant play to an open Anders Lee in the slot, who then buried the puck behind Flyer goalie Steve Mason, I jumped out of my chair and ran around like squirrel on cocaine.  They only needed one point in the standings to clinch.  They didn't even need to win the game.  They just needed to get to overtime.  That tying goal was yet another "this-isn't-your-same-old-Islanders" moment and it had seemingly come at the perfect time.

Except that there was still enough time left in the game for one more "same-old-Islanders" moment.  The Flyers scored on a last-second prayer of a shot from the blueline that goalie Jaroslav halak flubbed badly.  It's a play that goalies make thousands of times a season and maybe screw up once or twice.  But when it happens to the Islanders, it costs them the clinching of a playoff spot.

This is why we Islanders fans can't let go.  These moments follow the team like a bad hangover.  In the days following the loss, fans watched as the Boston Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers, giving the Isles the playoff spot that eluded them two nights before.  Except fans could only enjoy it so much as the cries of "they backed into the playoffs" echoed along with the cheers.  Even after a great road win against the floundering Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't temper the uneasiness.

Tried as we might, even the final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum couldn't give us the good vibes needed going into the playoffs.  A blown two-goal, third period lead and a loss in a shootout took home-ice advantage away and left the fanbase in a confused state.  Lighthouse Hockey posted a perfect exchange between two of their contributors that summed all of it up perfectly.  The questions linger.  Are they good enough?  Can they play like they did at the start of the year?  Can the goalie be better when needed?

If all these questions sound familiar it's because we Isles fans have been asking them for years.  However, instead of worrying about these things at the start of the year, we now must worry about them as the best team the Isles have had in 20 years starts the playoffs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

1 comment:

  1. The greatest invention for isles fans is the dvr, when I get that sinking feeling, like when filthydelphia scored with 2 second left, I had already fast fowarded the final 30 seconds. I knew it I thought as I saw the 4 change to 5 in the upper left corner. Now, any thought I had of us doing damage in the playoffs have been replaced by hope to just make this a series with the craps.