In their final three games the Islanders retain the chance to play playoff seed spoiler -- against two division rivals, no less -- but they'll have to do it without the first-line forward who put up five goals, seven points and a plus-6 in the Isles' last four games.
That forward is not any of the young Islanders the average NHL fan has likely heard of. It is Blake Comeau, whose post-Olympic form (add a hat trick and six assists to the above total) is either a sign that he's turned consistency's elusive corner, or a sign that he's learned to tease us for longer stretches. This period, ended three games short by a broken foot in the win over Montreal, is surely the best stretch of his young career.
But the road to NHL obscurity is paved with nice 16-game runs. As always, the jury will require evidence that Comeau's recent assertiveness, drive to the net, and willingness to shoot remains in 2010-11, a contract year when he will turn 25. It's a pity his start on next season is now delayed by nursing a broken foot; but no good deed in an Islanders uniform goes unpunished.
After Scott Gordon mostly juggled three lines Tuesday to replace Comeau, a recent resident of John Tavares' wing, it'll be interesting to see what Gordon goes with tonight, in the Igloo's last regular season game. Presumably Jeff Tambellini steps in, and presumably he ends up obscured as Gordon shortens his bench.
Long Live the Igloo
The NHL Network and the Penguins will rightly make a big deal about the closing of the Igloo, but I've been to a few sports venue closings in my day, so I know that afterward no one really remembers the last regular season game. It's that last playoff game that lingers, and it all depends on whether the Pens exit that one with their heads held high or facing immediate or imminent elimination.
...Elimination like the Islanders' most memorable game at the Igloo, when Al "Four Cups within 10 Years" Arbour trumped Scotty "You take that Islanders job, you'll lose for 10 years" Bowman:
It was impossible not to mark tonight's occasion by recalling Healy and Volek. Had to be done.
In all seriousness, I am sad to see the Good Ship Igloo go. Next fall, there will be two "old barns" left in the NHL, both of them storied but cramped buildings whose blue and orange (what the hell is copper?) inhabitants saw their best days in the '80s. For my money*, you can't beat the feeling of an old building when it's loud.
*See that? 'Cause the new buildings magically make everything cost more, get it? Nevermind. Pass the $12 beer.
Comeau as Scorer?
In 11 fewer games, the 2004 2nd-rounder Comeau has two more goals and one more point than 2008 1st-rounder Josh Bailey. Comeau exits as the team's sixth highest scorer this season, though Bailey could lap him in the final weekend. Comeau has spent time on every line this season as Gordon tried to find the consistency in his game. He definitely benefited most recently from being lined up with a rejuvenated John Tavares. I doubt he can count on such a plush role next year, but he's certainly made his case in March and April, so he's added some fun to the decision-making this summer and in next season's camp.
Islanders in the Spoiler Role
The Islanders ended the Senators' faint hopes of catching Buffalo. They wouldn't let the Habs clinch on Coliseum ice. But now they're on the road, where they're ... a tad less successful (11-21-7). With the nostalgic and pumped atmosphere tonight, this will be a major test.
With two full points above the Penguins, the Devils are in the driver's seat for the division title, potentially the second seed, and the chance to avoid a tough Round 1 matchup (Ottawa, if Buffalo doesn't take the second seed) and a potentially deadly Round 2 opponent in Washington. The Devils swept the season series and hold the tie-breaker if the wins are even. While the Pens get the Islanders twice with Atlanta in between, the Devils face Florida tonight, the Islanders Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday. It's tantalizingly up in the air.
I'm pretty excited that the Islanders' final three games are meaningful in this way. I'm pretty confident the Islanders, based on their recent form, see it the same way.
Prediction: There is much pomp, and maybe a little circumstance. Also: Sean Bergenheim delivers another Comeau-esque game.