NHL Playoffs: New York Islanders Open Eyes of NHL with Superb Effort
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That statement is not surprising to anyone. What was surprising was how the series played out. You can look at the six games and say the Islanders carried the play in four of them and could have won the series in six games instead of going home.
So what was the difference?
Was it the Penguins' All-Star-laden lineup?
Was is that the Islanders were just not good enough?
Was it the referees showing favoritism to the Penguins?
In reality, it's none of the above. As crazy as it sounds, the Islanders beat themselves in this series.
Evgeni Nabokov—who was a big reason the Islanders ended that six-year playoff drought—was simply not good enough. With a goals-against average well above four and a save percentage below .850, you are simply not going to win.
Have the Islanders proven they are back as a relevant franchise?
The Islanders gave the Penguins more than they can handle with their speed, hitting and determination. In four of the six played games, the Penguins looked like the No. 8 seed and the Islanders looked like the top seed.
You can see the mistakes the Islanders made in the series by the amount of goals the Penguins scored. Every time the Islanders blew a coverage or missed a defensive assignment, the puck wound up behind Nabokov.
Game 6 ended with a stroke of horrible luck when Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin shot the puck toward Nabokov, and Islanders center Frans Neilsen made an ill-fated decision to try and block the shot with his stick.
The puck shot up underneath the cross bar. Game tied.
Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik ended the game and the Islanders' season in overtime after going more than 100 games without scoring a goal.
Islander fans let out a collective gasp.
They followed that up with applause and a very loud "Let's go Islanders" chant.
The team lost a heartbreaker in overtime after vastly outplaying the Penguins, and the fans recognized it. The fans recognized that the Islanders are relevant in the NHL.
Their cheering let the Islanders know that the they will be there waiting to cheer the team when next season starts. The Islanders have now lost in the first round of the playoffs five straight times, and it's been 20 years since they last won a series.
This playoff loss felt different. It felt like the Islanders were the ones with the missed opportunity. It's the kind of feeling that builds character and, eventually, winners.
On the surface, it looks like a stepping stone for the Penguins to challenge for another Stanley Cup. It showed something much more meaningful to Islander fans.
It says this team is relevant again.
It says this team is one to watch again.
It says that the Islanders are a team to be reckoned with.
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