By Chris DiMaria
It’s official – the New York Rangers and New York Islanders have entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the same side of the Eastern Conference bracket. The Islanders opened up their series on Wednesday in Washington against the Capitals, while the Rangers opened on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home.
The key for the Islanders to make a deep playoff run will be pressing offensively early and often. The Isles finished up the regular season ranked fourth in the league in goals per game (3.0), and simply don’t sport a good enough defense to consistently win low-scoring games (Rotoworld).
The Islanders had one of the weakest regular season conclusions of any playoff team. They haven’t won back-to-back games since late February, and lost seven of nine to close out March. In all seven of those losses, New York managed to score just two goals or fewer. The Islanders’ only wins came in a 3-0 shutout in New Jersey at the Devils and a 5-4 victory at home against the Detroit Red Wings (ESPN.com).Embed from Getty Images
Entering the playoffs as a three seed, it’s impossible to move on without stringing wins together. The Islanders will need a revival from their top scorers to fuel any sort of playoff run.
Eight Islanders hit the double-digit mark in goals this season, led by three 20-plus-goal scorers. Those three were centers John Tavares (38), Anders Lee (25) and Brock Nelson (20), according to Yahoo! Sports. However, most of the production by Lee and Nelson was at the beginning of the season, and all but died out by the time the calendar hit April.
Anders Lee has found the back of the net just twice in the Islanders’ past 13 contests. Both goals came in a 5-4 loss in Philadelphia against the Flyers in the third-to-last game of the regular season. New York lost nine matchups during Lee’s scoring drought.
Brock Nelson has been going through a dry spell equivalent to Lee’s. Nelson has scored just twice in 16 games, but those two goals were both parts of winning efforts. His first was the more important of the two – the deciding score in a 5-4 victory over the Red Wings (ESPN.com).Embed from Getty Images
Nikolay Kulemin, who arrived in New York this past summer with Mikhail Grabovski as a pair of new-arrival secondary scorers, was another Islander to tally double-digit goals. He and winger Josh Bailey (15 goals, 41 points) both had impressive campaigns, but also started to simmer out towards the end of the season. The wingers tallied a combined four goals in the last month of play, so they will be another positional duo that will have to pick it up come playoff time (NHL.com).
Grabovski totaled nine goals and 19 points in the regular season, but hasn’t played since February 19th, according to Rotoworld. However, he will try to make his return to the ice in the playoffs, and the longer the Isles stay alive the better chance Grabovski will have to notch a 10th goal of his own.Embed from Getty Images
Defensively, goalie Jaroslav Halak will need to be the difference for New York. The netminder won a franchise record 38 games this year, and constantly saved the ailing Islanders defense when they dug themselves into a hole. Halak has historically turned it on in the playoffs, and sometimes all a team needs is a goalie with a hot hand. Just as Carey Price bails out the Montreal Canadiens, Jaroslav Halak will need to bail out the Islanders defense to keep any Cup hopes alive.
The Islanders will have to make it by the Capitals without the advantage of home ice in order to earn a shot at the Rangers. If both New York teams make it through the first round, it will be a new kind of Subway Series for a place in the Eastern Conference Championship. No matter which team makes it through, both New York franchises have enjoyed seasons to remember, and have legitimate chances at bringing the Stanley Cup back to the Big Apple.