RALEIGH, N.C. - Frans Nielsen allowed himself a rueful smile when he heard the question. Of course he remembered walking into the PNC Arena just about 11 months ago with an Islanders team on the verge of clinching their first playoff berth since 2007.
He remembered walking out with that playoff berth after earning a point in a shootout loss to the Hurricanes, remembered an Islanders team that seemed to be on the rise.
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"Bails [Josh Bailey] and I looked at each other when the bus pulled up this morning and we said, 'Remember how much fun it was when we were here last year?'" Nielsen said.
This Islanders season has not gone the way Nielsen or anyone else associated with the club wanted. They came into PNC Arena last night playing out the string, still mathematically alive for a playoff berth for a few more days but long since having accepted another season without a postseason spot.
Tuesday night's wild 5-4 win over the Hurricanes featured some positives, but felt a long way from last season's playoff drive. The Isles raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first 10:54 of the game, chasing Cam Ward after three goals in a 2:33 span, but the inexperienced Isles nearly gave the game away.
Carolina pulled within a goal just 2:42 into the second and the Isles had a few hairy moments in the third, but held on for their second straight win with Anders Nilsson making 24 saves.
Colin McDonald and Matt Martin each scored twice and Cal Clutterbuck had the other Islanders goal. Nielsen and his top line with Kyle Okposo and Anders Lee was quiet offensively, but that's been rare.
Nielsen turns 30 next month. He is the longest-serving Islander among the core group, at 437 games and counting. His 22 goals and 50 points coming into the game were both career highs, a sign that the defense-minded center can indeed play a scorer's role.
Except he doesn't see how his career highs have helped. "I think I've been scored on too many times this year, and I was hurting the team during an important stretch this season," Nielsen said. "It's good to know I can provide offense when we need it, but no, I can't be happy about it. I had a better year last year."
Nielsen has been pressed into service with No. 1 center John Tavares out, but he thought he might start this season as the No. 3 center with Ryan Strome waiting in the wings. It didn't work out that way, even though both Strome and Brock Nelson have had some good moments.
"I still think my place on a championship team would be a No. 3 center spot," Nielsen said. "Brock and Stromer are really close to becoming good offensive threats in this league. Like I said, it's good to know I can make that jump and provide offense when I'm needed."
Notes & quotes: Sebastian Collberg, the prospect acquired from the Canadiens in the Thomas Vanek deal, reportedly has a shoulder injury and is out of action for Frolunda of the Swedish League. He may travel to Long Island for an evaluation from the Islanders' medical staff.
Notes & quotes:
Sebastian Collberg, the prospect acquired from the Canadiens in the Thomas Vanek deal, reportedly has a shoulder injury and is out of action for Frolunda of the Swedish League. He may travel to Long Island for an evaluation from the Islanders' medical staff.