Offering perspective on the Islanders' 2019-20 season is virtually impossible
If the NHL manages to formulate a plan to play next season given the myriad of COVID-19 pandemic health and financial concerns, then perhaps this season can be put into better context.
Because trying to offer perspective on 2019-20, specifically the Islanders’ year-plus journey through it, is virtually impossible. There are no comparisons, thankfully.
Perhaps, the best way to sum it up is this: The Islanders’ wild, memorable ride through uncertain times provided just a ray of the normalcy every human being is craving.
And for that, we should be appreciative.
The Islanders’ season is the sum of way more than just the day-to-day results. It speaks more to overcoming adversity. Yes, hockey is a sport, not real life. But there are lessons to be applied to our lives watching how the Islanders navigated their minefields to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993, playing in sequestered bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton away from their families for nearly eight weeks.
We all have grave fears now, be it for our health or our loved ones’ health or keeping a job or how the next bills are going to be paid. Best not to think of the bigger picture or wonder when the world will be right again. Or, worse, to get the negative imagination running wild. Best to get through today as best we can.
The Islanders focused on each day as a singular task, put their collective head down and figured out a way to get to the next day, each day, until the Lightning eliminated them with a 2-1 overtime win in Thursday night’s Game 6.
Here’s their season in a run-on sentence:
The Islanders reported for their first training camp on Sept. 12, 2019, opened the preseason four days later with a 3-1 win at Philadelphia, began the regular season with 2-1 loss to the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 4, put together a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12-Nov. 23, lost top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech to an Achilles’ tendon injury on Jan. 2 and invaluable fourth-line center Casey Cizikas to a lacerated left leg on Feb. 11, were on an 0-3-4 slide when they went into limbo with the NHL pausing its regular season on March 12 because of the pandemic, began Training Camp 2.0 on July 13, beat the Rangers, 2-1, in an exhibition game on July 29, officially resumed play on Aug. 1 with Pelech and Cizikas back in the lineup, advanced past the Panthers in a best-of-five qualifying series, beat coach Barry Trotz’s former team, the Capitals, in five games in the first round, nearly blew a 3-1 series lead before eliminating the Flyers with a 4-0 win in Game 7, before coming up just short against the Lightning with Cizikas and Pelech both getting injured again despite goalie Semyon Varmalov's instantly-iconic, headfirst dive into the celebration after a 2-1 double overtime win in Game 5.
Not that they were never the team of the people on Long Island but, more than likely, this team connected with its fans in a way not seen since the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, even if the pandemic produced an unwanted physical divide between the two.
As evidence, all you had to do was look at the pictures and videos of the fans cheering the players deplaning after their flight from Edmonton on Friday at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.
It was not a Stanley Cup parade but, given all that’s going on, it might have been just as meaningful.
A sports writer’s personal memories of a season are always different than the fans.
My list includes an impromptu group interview with Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello on March 7 after it was announced that, for precautionary health reasons, the media would no longer be allowed in the team’s dressing room for interviews. And sitting in a Calgary hotel restaurant with colleagues on March 11, watching the television reports that the NBA had suspended its season and thinking I would not be going to Edmonton and Pittsburgh to finish this road trip.
But, for me, the craziness of a life on the road was encapsulated on Feb. 16. I had just arrived in Phoenix from Las Vegas, wrote my daily stories and, mentally and physically exhausted, just needed a break. So, I drove to the Desert Botanical Garden to hike among the cacti. Somewhere, deep in that maze, I learned the Islanders had acquired defenseman Andy Greene. Now, I was running to try and find the parking lot to get back for a conference call and to write more stories. Like I said, it was a maze. At one point, sweating profusely in the heat, I stopped to read a park map. I must have looked deep in distress because a man my age addressed me like a five-year-old.
"Son, do you need some help?"
Here’s hoping to have the freedom to have that frustration soon.