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Fear and Loathing in the Playoffs: An Islanders prediction panel and email therapy session

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LHH writers lay out their worst fears and deepest wishes for the Islanders as the playoffs begin.

Not this guy again.
Not this guy again.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The following is a transcript of an email conversation between Dan Saraceni and Michael Leboff about the Islanders, the playoffs, the ghost of Brooks Orpik and what they hope (and hope not) to see come to pass in the next few weeks.

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From: Michael Leboff
To: Dan Saraceni

After the loss to Columbus on Saturday night I went to a 24/7 deli and gripped myself a turkey sandwich to calm down, the deli I went to is out of reach of the Coliseum and has seating so I thought it would be a good place to hide and have a cry. Of course as soon as I walk in the cashier, who is stationed near the door, gave me shit.

"So like the Islanders to lose in the final game at the Coliseum, you guys should just move to Brooklyn now."

This sent me down a deep spiral of Islander anxiety. I started to remind myself of the just-punched-in-the-gut-1000-times feeling I had when Brooks goddamn Orpik scored that OTGWG against us in 2013. I tried to turn in for the night, but as I am sure is the same for you dear friend, sleep is just not an option right now.

I spent hours in the dark trying to convince myself that we were still in decent shape and then a few more hours trying to convince myself that the Rangers weren't as good as they've been playing. Finally I fell asleep, but my mind was not done picking on me.

I woke up in a cold sweat after nightmaring that Arthur Staple tweeted out the lines and our fourth line was 36-48-53. I thought I was still dreaming when I woke up and saw the tweets start pouring in with our schedule. Game 7 will take place on April 27th, my 25th birthday.

The worst part of this whole experience is that I've been having a few weird, almost clairvoyant moments of confidence the past couple of days. I'll be laying around or walking somewhere or sitting on the john and all of a sudden a sense of calm has come over me as if things are going to be okay. Of course they are broken up by long, dark clouds of worry and thus, I have already convinced myself this is how things are going to go:

We give the Caps a hell of a series and get to game 7 in Washington. We take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period. Halak is standing on his head and we look like we may be getting through this when...Lubomir Visnovsky puts a puck over the glass for a delay of game. They pull Holtby. Ovechkin scores. We go to overtime.

Both teams are feeling out the OT when the Capitals get an odd man rush and Backstrom hits the trailing defenseman...Brooks Orpik. He wires a slapper over Halak's glove and my birthday and life are ruined.

The Capitals can't transition from round 1 thriller to get back to business for round 2 and are swept by the Rangers. The Rangers play the Habs in the Conference Finals and Kreider runs Price and knocks him out for the series. They win the East and then sweep the Winnipeg Jets in the Final.

I just can't see it happening any other way.

From: Dan Saraceni
To: Michael Leboff

Whoa. That's deep.

I remember the Orpik goal in 2013 like it was yesterday, and not just because I wrote the recap of that game. After the initial shock wore off, I felt a sense of peace. The Islanders had left everything out on the ice that night. In the only game on the schedule and with every hockey fan watching, the Islanders announced that they were for real and going to force their way into the Eastern Conference's top echelon and stay there for years to come.

Eight months later, I'm freezing to death at Yankee Stadium hoping the Islanders don't tie a game against the Rangers because the season is basically over and I just want to get home with all of my digits still attached.

In 2013, they were playing with house money. This year, they're all in and I have no idea what they've been dealt, how they'll play it or even if they know the table rules. That difference is what's killing me. Now, it's for real. I'm not going to say it was better when the team had no stakes to play for because that's stupid. But the pressure is palpable. At least it is for me because I think the world is going to end if they don't win at least four of these next seven games.

I keep trying to remind myself that the world won't actually end and that, outside of the Islanders echo chamber (home of one billion daily CappyRage tantrums), the Islanders are seen as a good, young team on the rise and not a disaster waiting to happen that is destined to continue 20-something years of playoff misery. But this is New York. Around every corner is a smirking, shit-eating Rangers fan waiting to giggle and point a finger at your loser team because they got King Henry Lunkwist and you don't. Where I live in New Jersey is just as infested with Rangers fans, and I'm simultaneously hypersensitive about the Islanders and overly empathetic to the plight of the poor, unloved Devils.

So, I am also terrified of the Rangers winning it all, as I was last year when I didn't watch a minute of the Stanley Cup final. But I think we all kinda knew the Kings would take care of business at some point. Now I'm counting on the Blackhawks, Ducks, Blues or literally any other team to help me feel better.

Why not the Islanders? Because I don't know. I love the team's individual parts (er, most of them, anyway) and think they have more than enough ammo to make the battle a long one. But "having" and "using" and "doing" aren't the same thing. The wrong player in the wrong spot at the wrong time could cause me to forget to breathe.

If it comes down to Islanders-Rangers at some point, I might have a nervous breakdown. Only a win or seven multiple OT games will satisfy me. Not the best options, but I'm trying to open my mind a little and give myself hope.

From: Michael Leboff
To: Dan Saraceni

I was definitely proud of that team, they really gave Pittsburgh hell. But, as an Islander fan I have come to cherish any ride into the Spring and when that one ended I was crushed.

I've been struggling to convince myself of the same thing. This team is really good and can dictate play when they are deployed right and have their legs.

Unlike you, my anxiety forces me to watch every second of every Ranger game in the playoffs. I don't know if that makes me a masochist, but then again what Islander fan isn't. Even when they were down 3-0 I figured they would win the whole thing and there would be a 30 for 30 made about them and it would win an Oscar and they would win the next 10 Stanley Cups.

I made a considered effort not to get so wrapped up in the Rangers this season, the start we had to our season helped, but here I am losing sleep, putting money away for a one-way ticket out of New York if they win the whole thing.

It's funny (actually, not funny) that I dream about the playoffs all season long, and now that we're here I am suffocated by the stress. I wish we had two more weeks off before we had to play. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, we start Wednesday. WEDNESDAY!

Still, I am doing my best to cherish this opportunity. Both of my parents remember where they were when Kennedy was shot and when we "landed" on the Moon. But me, I can tell you exactly where I was each time we clinched the playoffs in my lifetime. That is something I will never take for granted. We've had such a rough go of it, that we are relishing every second of this. For other teams, the first round is just taking care of business. Whereas I would get behind the idea of having a parade after each round we win.

I used to explain to college friends that weren't really familiar with the struggles we've seen, that I am the way I am because I've never seen this team win a playoff series. Sometimes I think about how good it would feel to win a series, but the truth is I really don't know and am scared I will never know.

From: Dan Saraceni
To: Michael Leboff

Don't feel too bad about not seeing the Islanders win a series. Outside of 1985, 87 and 93, the Islanders were one and done (or none and done), meaning anyone not around for the dynasty hasn't had a whole lot of opportunities to see a victory. I vaguely remember the Easter Epic and was in high school in 1993, but wasn't as invested as I wish I was.

And you wouldn't be the only one throwing a parade after the first round. This is, I think, what all Islanders fans want more than anything. A Stanley Cup would be great, but it requires so much to go your way that it almost feels like being greedy asking for one at this stage. If they progress in the playoffs, the dreams of a championship will get more and more vivid until you can really see it happening. Then you get greedy.

But right now, a first round win, or "business," as you succinctly put it, isn't too much to ask even against the almighty Ovechkin and his Capitals. A few years ago, Caps fans were probably thinking the same thing. Now, the Islanders are their "business" and anything less than the Conference Finals is probably a bitter disappointment and missed opportunity for a team operating at close to peak.

Explaining playoff anxiety is probably futile to anyone outside of the most die hard fans. I didn't get much sleep myself last night, and it's difficult to tell people it's because I keep seeing Brian Strait sliding out of position during a Caps power play while Calvin deHaan eats chicken fingers in the Verizon Center press box.

Here's how I see things playing out: Islanders win a thrilling seven-game series against the Caps on an overtime winner by Casey Cizikas. Against the Penguins in Round Two, the Islanders exact their revenge from 2013, beating them in five. The Conference Finals against the Lightning is another tight series, with each game a coin flip, but the Islanders win in six as Halak bests Ben Bishop.

In the Stanley Cup finals against Chicago, the Islanders are given no chance by anyone, even their own fans who are just happy their team snapped their streak and outlasted the Rangers. But the Islanders don't care. They fight the Blackhawks tooth and nail and simply refuse to go away, answering every goal and save.

Game Six, Nassau Coliseum, impossibly up 3-2 in the series, the Islanders win a nail-biter, jumping out to a big lead and sweating out a Chicago onslaught. But when the dust settles, the Islanders close the Coliseum as the champs. Gary Bettman, booed in his hometown despite helping keep the team there long after he probably could have moved them anywhere, hands the Cup and Conn Smythe to John Tavares, who fulfills his destiny. The party continues all summer as the team closes out their first 43 years in the best possible way.

Then I wake up when Ovechkin scores his second goal of the first period of Game 1 and everyone within eye and earshot wants Capuano fired at the intermission or they're done with the team FOREVER!

What do you see as your best chance at happiness this Spring?

From: Michael Leboff
To: Dan Saraceni

Jesus, I don't even know. I spend most of my time dreading the worst (Rangers win it all, we get swept, etc.) that I rarely even give thought to happy.

However, like I told you I've had these weird bouts with calming confidence and this morning I had one. But then of course that calm was quickly swept away and now I am shaking at work.

Although I must say these weird senses of calming confidence are not as rare as I thought they would be. And sometimes I even convince myself things may just be alright, especially if we can get out of this first round. If we can jump the Caps early and recapture some of that early season mojo -- hell this team is good enough to do it. I've been trying my best not to daydream about the good scenarios, but I'd be lying if I didn't if I hadn't been lost in the thought of the Isles coming back to the Coliseum up 2-0. They come out firing in the first and Tavares has a hat-trick and we take a commanding 3-0 lead and win it on Tuesday night. Then, we get some revenge by dominating the Penguins in the second round.

On a side note, I'm eerily confident that the Penguins can eliminate the Rangers. Yes, they've been terrible and yes, their defense leaks the roof of my college house but those two guys Crosby and Malkin are pretty good and the Rangers defense (especially without Klein) could be pretty damn bad.

I haven't daydreamed past the second round victory yet, partly because I have no idea who's going to come out of the Atlantic bracket and partly because my good daydreams get interrupted quickly by nightmare-y ones.

One trick that has been working is to remember that John Tavares is possibly the best player in the entire world right now. It's crazy how often I forget that we have Tavares and that he is such a star that is almost silly. So now when I think about Ovechkin flying down the wing 1v1 with Brian Strait (vomits), I counter punch with Tavares leading a 2 on 1 with Ryan Strome against Brooks Orpik or Tim Gleason. But then sometimes the dark part of my brain counters that with the memory of Strome being healthy scratched..God I just love Tavares so goddamn much.

Now that we're one sleep away from this all getting started, I can't really hold down food.

From: Dan Saraceni
To: Michael Leboff

Then here's one last piece of advice (from the last guy who should be giving anyone advice on how to quell anxiety): Don't order that spicy, sloppy, over-topped "Beast Dog" from Champions at the Marriott until least 48 hours after elimination or an Islanders Stanley Cup parade.