The whole All-Star Weekend provided a lift for the players from the metropolitan area, who could use one. Heading into a stretch that will determine their seasons and probably form their franchises’ futures, they were recharged, relaxed and inspired.
That latter quality came from the presence of Brian Boyle, the former Ranger and former Islanders nemesis who was the centerpiece of emotions at Amalie Arena. Boyle, a Devils center who replaced injured teammate Taylor Hall, gave everyone around him a boost just by being here.
Josh Bailey of the Islanders, himself an inspiring story because he finally became an All-Star in his 10th NHL season, said this was the first time he got to know Boyle. “Really genuine. A good person,” Bailey said Sunday. “It was good to see he’s doing well and was able to come to this weekend.”
Boyle’s story has become a familiar and touching one. He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in the preseason and nonetheless is having an outstanding season. Then his 2-year-old son, Declan, was diagnosed with a serious circulatory condition. A highlight of the weekend was learning that his son received a positive report.
Boyle, a former Lightning player, heard repeated stirring ovations. “I’m just enjoying it,” he said. “Sometimes emotions get the better of you. That’s OK, too. It’s just been a ton of fun, it really has. That’s life. There are ups and downs, there are things that happen. Sometimes you get picked up and pretty neat things can happen.”
The whole story offered a dose of perspective.
“You know it’s hard to really understand what he’s been going through,” former Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist said. “We’ve been talking about him a lot at home because my wife has been good friends with his wife for many years. I feel for him. I’m impressed with the way he has handled this year so far.”
Now everyone moves on for what players call the “second half,” although the season is more than halfway over. It’s a fresh start, time for a new direction and possibly new decisions. The Isles and Rangers have had ups and downs, but each is only a point out of playoff position.
Lundqvist’s team faces the choice of making a run for it with the present core or tearing it down and building anew. The franchise goalie, who stood out in his 10 All-Star Game minutes, is focusing on playing the best he can, no matter what.
“The feeling I have is the best I’ve felt in a couple years. I’ve made some adjustments and there is no reason I won’t be able to play at this level for another four years, five years maybe,” he said. “It depends on how much you love the game. Right now, I really love putting in the time.”
The Islanders would be well served by bolstering their roster, improving their chances of re-signing John Tavares by showing they have the resources and know-how to build a sustained contender. Tavares left here in a hopeful frame of mind. So did Bailey, his linemate during the season and in the All-Star Game.
“It would be nice if we could get healthy a little bit, get back to our early-season form. We had a good swagger about our team,” Bailey said. “I still like the position we’re in. We’ve still got a lot of work to do in these 30-plus games. I think we all believe we can find our way into the playoffs. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to be the No. 1 seed. You can be the second wild card. From there, any team can win.”