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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Islanders' loss just demonstrates how hard it is to maintain a streak

Said coach Barry Trotz: "We played well enough to win, we definitely played poor enough to lose. There's a fine line between winning and losing."

Thomas Greiss of the Islanders looks on during

Thomas Greiss of the Islanders looks on during the second period against the Hurricanes at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

This tells you how hard it is to win seven games in a row during the course of one season: Not only were no current Islanders around the team the last time it happened here, only seven of those in uniform Tuesday night had been born.

So, this was a big deal that they were chasing when they played the Hurricanes Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum. They came pretty close, too, wiping out a two-goal deficit in the third period before losing, 4-3.

Tough thing, these seven-game streaks. Also tough is making the playoffs in the National Hockey League, where the regular season is meaningful enough that nobody dares give star players regular “rest days” on game nights.

With 41 games, exactly a half-season, to go, the Islanders are in playoff territory. And they again juiced up the Coliseum, where they are 3-1-1. Also, they have put themselves in position to do some serious out-of-town scoreboard-watching, which is a huge step forward. Just not a seventh-heaven kind of leap.

“We had won in a couple different ways, like good goaltending. So, it was a good streak,” said Brock Nelson, who had two goals and an assist. “We snuck one away in St. Louis. You have to find ways to win at different times, in different fashions. We let this one slip away.”

Barry Trotz, blunt at the coach’s lectern, said: “We played well enough to win, we definitely played poor enough to lose. There’s a fine line between winning and losing.”

It was a vastly different world back on Jan. 16, 1990, the last time the Islanders were shooting for a single-season seven-game winning streak. Instead of Trotz, it still was the time of Trots (Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier played that night, after having missed 12 games with a broken rib).

The Islanders won that night at the Coliseum, and won two more on the road to move into first place. The deciding goal in win No. 7 was scored by Randy Wood, whose son, Miles, now plays for the Devils. The style was wide open, with the Canucks launching 51 shots at goalie Glenn Healy, who stopped all of them. “I think the players ought to hug him, kiss him and carry him on the plane,” coach Al Arbour said, as quoted in the game story by this reporter, then a rookie beat writer.

Nowhere was the disparity between then and now more obvious, though, than in the standings. The 1989-90 Islanders made the playoffs despite having finished seven games under .500 (they squeaked past the Penguins at the very last moment when the latter club lost the season finale on an overtime goal by Buffalo’s Uwe Krupp).

Those were the days when the NHL was drawing coast-to-coast, border-to-border ridicule for its playoff situation. Almost everybody got in — 16 of the league’s 21 teams, and you had to be pretty bad to miss. Not so now. With 31 teams in the circuit and still only 16 spots available, reaching the postseason is a beast. Have a bad week and you can be cooked.

“What I’ve learned in this league,” Trotz said, “is not to have bad weeks. Parity is huge.”

“Parity” is not necessarily a compliment. You could read it as a shortage of elite teams, or an overabundance of mediocre ones. In any case, the regular season is tough, and interesting. No way can a coach hold out one or more of his top players just for the heck of it, the way they do it in the NBA. Losing a point or two on Jan. 8 could ruin April.

Then again, it was a solid six-win spurt. “We had guys out of the lineup, we had guys back in. We won different ways,” said Jordan Eberle, who entered the world four months after the 1990 streak.

Half a season left means lots of grinding, but plenty of chances to stay relevant and exciting, maybe even win seven in a row.

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