For years the New York Islanders have been the punch line for many a joke in the hockey world, but it is hard to ignore their resurgence any longer. The Islanders are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and it appears that no team can slow them down.
It is easy for the casual fan or critic to simply say, "it is just the Islanders," but the 2012-13 Isles are not the same team as last year or the year before that.
They are not the team that was joked about because of having Rick DiPietro in their lineup. They are a team that is playing hard and producing.
At first one could say that the Islanders were simply lucky, but their play as of late has been simply extraordinary, and their resurgence is simply great for hockey.
The Islanders are 8-1-1 in their last 10, and they are three points out of the No. 5 spot in the conference, and the fact that they are going to likely make the playoffs is great for the NHL.
Year after year certain teams make the playoffs while others miss it. This year there is the potential to have returning teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders, and that is amazing for the NHL because amazing rivalries can be rekindled.
There is the possibility that the Islanders could face the New York Rangers at some point in the playoffs just like there could be some original six matchups involving the Habs, Leafs and Boston Bruins.
John Tavares Putting Isles Ahead of Schedule
The Islanders have been a team in the making for quite sometime now, and they rise towards the top has come earlier than scheduled.
It was long expected that the Islanders would become a contender once again once prospects like Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart joined the roster, but this year John Tavares has taken a huge step forward and Evgeni Nabokov has been phenomenal.
Tavares always had talent and skill, but this year he has put the team on his back and he has adopted a mindset that he won't accept failure.
Fellow B/R columnist Nicholas Goss has made the case that Tavares should be in the Hart Trophy race, and it is hard to disagree with him.
Look at Tavares' numbers this year.
The Return of Evgeni Nabokov
In the case of Nabokov there is a subtle irony that the player who didn't want to come to Long Island is now thriving on it. Nabokov has been a rock for the Isles down the stretch, and he has a record of 20-11-4 with three shutouts and a 2.54 GAA.
Nabokov is currently tied for first in the NHL in wins, and he will have a chance to improve that going down the stretch.
The key to any playoff contender is key goaltending, and Nabokov arguably hasn't been this good since his time with the San Jose Sharks. With Nabokov playing like this there is truly no limit to how far the Islanders can go.
The Rest of the Lineup
The Islanders have really played well as of late because they are getting contributions from other players. Against Boston Josh Bailey was a hero, at other times throughout the year it has been Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes, Mark Streit, Thomas Hickey or someone else.
There is no shortage of players on the roster that are hungry to win, and it has been impressive to watch a team really rally behind each other. Earlier this year fans wanted Jack Capuano fired, and maybe just maybe the team took that momentum and ran with it.
Maybe the team has used that negative energy and turned it into a positive because they believe in their coach. This could just be pure speculation, but it could explain the drastic turnaround that the Islanders have gone through during the past few weeks.
A Game For The Ages
This Saturday there will be an amazing hockey game in New York. For the first time in years there will be a meaningful game featuring the Rangers and Islanders on Long Island.
Both teams are still fighting to improve their playoff spots, and it is going to be a must win for both teams.
The energy, intensity and emotions of this game are going to be massive, and it is great to see that the rivalry between the two teams is going to be re-ignited.
With the Islanders playing so well, one can wonder what they will look like next year when their top prospects join the team, and what the team will look once they move to Brooklyn.
All in all, the Islanders are really exciting to watch right now, and it looks like they have turned the corner and they can only be headed upward in the future.