Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002. Show More
Considering that everything in hockey seems subject to further review, it is fair to take a second look at the Islanders’ postmortem. And it looks like this: Despite having been outplayed late in every game against the Lightning and having played their worst in their last game, the 2015-16 Islanders should be remembered as good finishers. They stopped a slide of 23 years without a playoff series victory and they ended the tension that had been building all that time.
As finishes go, they could have done much worse.
True, they must make changes, possibly big changes, because of how they failed to close out the Lightning when they had chances at home and how soundly they were beaten in Game 5 on Sunday. This observer is on record about the work ahead. But any time you overturn history, you have done well. The playoff drought had begun to become the Islanders’ identity. This season’s team leaves the legacy of a fresh slate.
By beating the Panthers and overcoming the post-1993 hex, these Islanders allowed their successors the luxury of not carrying the proverbial monkey — or a whole zoo — on their backs. These Islanders put their franchise back on the map (albeit slightly to the west).
After Sunday’s game, they did not want to hear about having won a playoff series because they were heartbroken about having lost one.
“You spend your whole life for a chance to win the Cup,” Travis Hamonic said with emotion, mindful of his trade request and the likelihood that he had played his last game for the team that drafted and nurtured him. “I love being an Islander. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.”
When he was asked specifically about ending the drought, he added: “That was a pretty cool feeling in Game 6 when we won. I’m glad we had a chance to do it in front of our fans.”
But his voice trailed off, indicating that one series win was not enough. You want that attitude. If you are a fan, you never want to believe that you care more than the players do (see New York Mets, 2007).
But I predict that memories of this spring will focus more on what the Islanders did than what they didn’t do.
They flourished down the stretch just to make the postseason. Then they proved wise in deciding — however you want to label the decision — that it was not the end of the world to lose the regular-season finale and face Florida rather than Pittsburgh. Once they got in, they were totally clutch in the first round. They were smart, too, seeking further review on what would have been a crushing third Panthers goal in Game 3.
They changed the perception of Barclays Center. Five playoff games there, four going to overtime, gave fans a reason to embrace the place, regardless of the inconvenience and the regrets that they weren’t still at Nassau Coliseum. Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad called it “one of the loudest buildings.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper and his players also praised the atmosphere (remaining diplomatically quiet about the spotty ice quality and getting splattered with beer).
These Islanders helped us reflect on the good guys of 1993: Ray Ferraro, Glenn Healy, Pierre Turgeon, Steve Thomas and, poignantly, Al Arbour.
They gave Charles Wang something to celebrate after years of red ink. Say what you will about the owner, soon to become a minority partner, but he grew to dearly love the Islanders.
They created a buzz around the franchise again. The small dressing room at the practice facility in Syosset was crammed with reporters and TV cameras. The Empire State Building wore the team’s colors.
By the time this year’s run was done, the Islanders mattered more than they have in a long time. That is a fine finish.