There’s usually some concern that the first home game back from a trip out to the Pacific time zone is a dud because of the long flight and readjustment back to your own time zone. But the New York Islanders experienced no such dud, and it may have to do with their spaced-out schedule: They traveled back Sunday, practiced Monday to get back up to speed, and then dominated Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 7-2 win over the Leafs—an extraordinarily satisfying win no matter the circumstances, but especially so as an underdog win in a tight playoff race—put the Islanders at 82 points, three ahead of the Florida Panthers, who have only one game in hand, and four points over the Pittsburgh Penguins, on the outside looking in with two games in hand but well behind the Islanders in the first tiebreaker, regulation wins.
Courtesy of Florida’s regulation loss last night, the Isles also have, at the moment, the highest points percentage of the teams in the Eastern wild card chase, meaning they truly control their own destiny heading into their final ten games. That’s a great place to be in. Their chances to earn a berth grow by the day.
But a bit of the shine comes off of that massive win when you remember that Noel Acciari boarded Brock Nelson in the corner late in the first period, and Nelson, holding his head as he went down, left immediately and never returned. That the Islanders put up a touchdown and kicked the extra point without their most consistent player is a feat in and of itself. Pray to Bossy that it was precautionary, but I didn’t like the look of it. If it’s a concussion, I hope like hell that he’s ready to go after the one-week minimum he’d be out. They’ll need their most consistent player down the stretch and into the playoffs, assuming they get there.
About last night:
- A big night for Cal Clutterbuck and more brilliance from Ilya Sorokin led the way, but Nelson’s injury dampens the mood. [LHH] The ups and the downs. [Newsday]
- Padding the lead in the first wild card spot. [NHL]
- Dropping seven in spite of losing Nelson is pretty impressive. [NY Post]
- It shows that, even as a wild card, the Islanders would be a handful in the playoffs. [The Athletic]
- But obviously, the concern now is how long the Isles, already missing Mathew Barzal, will be without their second-line center. [NY Post]
- It was Clutterbuck’s first career three-point night, and that paddle save was Sorokin’s third in two years, and second in a month—even more satisfying that all three have come against the Isles’ biggest rivals (Rangers last year, Pens last month, Leafs last night). This one was in front of the home crowd, too, and all of us in attendance laughed and cheered in awe. [3 Takeaways]
- How big was the save? Multiple outlets produced stories separate and apart from their recaps just to address the save and the impact it had on the game. As captain Anders Lee said, it was “ridiculous” and “woke up” the guys on the bench. Sitting at the game, I said after that save that the team owed him a big win, and they came through. [NY Post | amNY]
- Aw hell, have another look at it (and kudos to Mike Monaco on the call—one of two decent play-by-play commentators ESPN has to offer; also love AJ on the call, and the color commentator just chuckling after it happened):
- Dating back to the two games before the All-Star break (the two games before Bo Horvat joined the fold) at the end of an otherwise woeful January, the Islanders are 14-5-3 in their last 22 games. That’ll help the playoff push. And Eric Hornick is breaking out the magic numbers. [NYI Skinny]
- On the opposing side, it was a burn-the-tape game for the Leafs. Hehe. [Sportsnet]
Other Islanders bits:
- It was the Pierre Engvall revenge game, and although he didn’t hit the scoresheet, he enjoyed beating the team that traded him away. Also, Alex Romanov (who crushed Bobby McMann with a perfect hip check) will be shieldless next game. [Newsday]
- Andrew Gross vocally checks in on the playoff race and chats with Matt Martin and Simon Holmstrom before answering the fans’ questions in the latest Island Ice.
- One of the things he discussed with Martin was his two years in Toronto, where he built up some character by learning how to be a healthy scratch. [Newsday]
- A new Talkin’ Isles! This time featuring Jamie McLennan. [Islanders]
- The B-Isles have signed to amateur tryouts a couple of sons of former NHLers coming out of college: Isles late-round picks Christian Kyrgier and Jake Pivonka.
- New St. John’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, an NCAA lifer, began his coaching career four decades ago with Providence College. The AD that hired him? One Lou Lamoriello, and the two paisans remain friends to this day. [Newsday]
- It appears that The Hockey News is trying to reestablish itself as a reliable hockey outlet, and to that end, they’ve brought on the legendary Stan Fischler and the young phenom reporter Stefen Rosner. [Stan’s History with the Isles | Stefen’s Meteoric Rise]
Last night’s NHL scores include the aforementioned Panthers’ regulation loss (to the Flyers no less; thank you, Philly), as well as regulation losses for the Senators (to the Bruins) and Sabres (at home, big time to the Predators), and an overtime loss for the Capitals (to the Blue Jackets). A spate of favorable results, that Florida loss chief among them.
- As the Penguins spiral, a Pittsburgh writer examines the less-than-stellar job that GM Ron Hextall has done. [CBS Pittsburgh]
- The NHL reached a ten-year deal with growing monopoly Fanatics as their uniform partner, starting in 2024-25. [ESPN] I’m not a huge jersey guy, so I don’t have too much direct experience here, but it’s apparently not good for fans. [The Athletic]
- Alex Ovechkin notched his 40th goal of the season, giving him a record 13 40-goal seasons, passing Wayne Gretzky. [NHL]
- The Calgary Flames aren’t dead quite yet. [Sportsnet]