Setting an NHL record for fewest shots on goal in a Game 7 will not, in all likelihood, be tops on a given team's "Keys to Victory" graphic that sports broadcasts are so fond of using to distill the myriad complexities of a postseason hockey game.
Shots are important. Shot attempts are important. I mean, just getting the puck to the net in one form or another is the fundamental concept of hockey as a sport, just so long as you don't distinctly kick it in once you get it there. The New York Islanders didn't really do any of those things, and they didn't really do any of those things at the worst possible time of what would have been the ultimate storybook season.
Other contributing factors aside in the series-ending game against the Washington Capitals—a lack of open ice; injuries to important players; Yevgeni Yevgenievich Kuznetsov (because assassins tend to have three names)—the Islanders exited the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs on the
strength weakness of just 11 shots on goal in Game 7.
11. Only three of which were from forwards.
It was an ignominious end to an otherwise excellent regular season: 47 wins; 101 points; seven 40-plus point scorers; a league-leading 54.7% score-adjusted Fenwick at 5-on-5; two(!) Eric Boulton goals; etc. The list goes on. The season, unfortunately, will not.
Most of the important questions about the end of the 2014-15 campaign on Long Island have been answered. I say most because there's one big one left: What happens now? Not "what happens" with the team; they'll be fine, if not right away.
I mean what happens now for Isles fans; how do we process what happened at Verizon Center on Monday night?
Do we accept it and move on? Do we rehash the game and search for little things that could have been done differently? Do we pretend the loss didn't happen and that no yeah we're totally fine we're just gonna lie here on the floor behind the couch awhile so we don't have to see the TV and its stupid hockey highlights?
Do we ask a ton of questions? Do we, like, go outside?
On coping with [your sports team's season-ending] loss
I googled the Kübler-Ross model the other day, mostly because caring too much about a hockey team can sometimes lead to false equivalence between "the end of that team's season" and "coping with the loss of a loved one." Because that's totally rational and not at all weird.
As the Islanders were being eliminated from Cup contention and in the few days that followed, I cycled through Kübler-Ross's stages pretty much in order, if not equally. And I came out on the other side pretty much intact. (Minus still being sad at not getting to tear down a Party City in a fit of Isles-fueled jubilation. Alas. Perhaps next year.)
In the interest of preservation (therapy?), I've decided to put it down in writing. Apologies to all the psychologists out there; I've taken some liberties with Kübler-Ross's descriptions.
1. Denial: one of the first reactions is denial, wherein the fan imagines a false, preferable reality. Like one where Tom Wilson is sitting in the penalty box and the off-ice official won't let him out. ("The door's broken, bro. I swear.") Or one where Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn't have rocket-boosters attached to his skates.
Nope. Nope. Nopenopenopenope. Kuznetsov didn't score there. That didn't happen. I know it didn't happen because teleporting isn't allowed. At least, I'm pretty sure it's not allowed.
He was idling by the half-wall, like, two seconds ago. There's no way he could've spun off Frans Nielsen's check, pumped a couple of crossovers, avoided a Brock Nelson stick-check, out-waited a sprawling Jaroslav Halak, then fired a wrister top shelf from the goal line at a 13-degree angle while skating backwards. Nope.
(Is it possible to be slow-rolled on a playoff series-clinching goal? I think Kuznetsov slow-rolled me on a playoff series-clinching goal. If it actually happened, of course.)
2. Anger: when the fan recognizes that denial cannot continue, he becomes frustrated, especially at proximate individuals and in direct proportion to how many ‘The Islanders Are Dominant' posts he wrote earlier in the season (
one two three). Certain psychological responses of a fan undergoing this phase would be: "Why me? It's not fair!" "Who is to blame?" "Why would God John Tavares let this happen?" "Disney is doing a terrible job of scripting this part of the Islanders season right now!"
Seriously, Disney: get your act together. I've seen all three ‘Mighty Ducks' movies more times than I can count and I don't remember any of them ending with the downtrodden-yet-plucky underdogs getting their teeth kicked in after the inspirational montage.
Here's me, hypothetically visiting the Amazon page for the boxed DVD set of this fictional Islanders-centric movie that chronicles the final season at Nassau Coliseum: "0 stars. Would not watch again." This is your fault, Disney. Your fault.
(If you're the type of person to point out that Disney also produced ‘Heavyweights,' which featured Gerry Garner wearing an Islanders t-shirt and being portrayed as, um, less-than-super-cool-while-wearing-it, so I maybe should have expected an Islanders-based Disney production to not end well, I would say 1) don't back-talk me, and 2) if I remember correctly, "Garner, Gerald; age 11; 141 pounds" won Camp Hope's Apache Relay in that movie. Boom.)
3. Bargaining: the third stage involves the hope that the fan can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended postseason run by the team in question is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. "I promise I won't call out Brian Strait for anything ever again. Never. Not even when I'm using a burner account to angrily comment on YouTube videos. I swear."
Even though it felt like delaying the inevitable—again, only 11 shots on goal—there was some serious bargaining going on among the Isles faithful toward the end of the third period. A quick look back to the regular season proves that the Isles were capable of scoring last-minute goals. They even scored on the power play back in the day. Why couldn't it happen again in Game 7?
I'm sure I wasn't the only one silently agreeing not to criticize anything about the team as the final minutes ticked down, if only the Islanders could score a goal and force overtime. "Fans: one minute we're screaming at a guy for missing his assignment in the defensive zone, and the next minute we're trying to curry favor from the hockey gods by promising all kinds of nonsense."
Fans. We are the worst.
Depression: "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?" "My team is going to lose soon so what's the point of watching?" "I miss the postseason already." During the fourth stage, the fan becomes saddened by the certainty of a playoff exit. In this state, the fan may become silent, refuse visitors, and spend much of the time denying how excited he was when he was filling out his soon-to-be-carpet-bombed NHL bracket.
I accidentally took a nap on Tuesday after I got home from work. I didn't really mean to. It just kind of happened. Does that count?
Acceptance: "It's going to be OK." "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it." In this last stage, fans embrace postseason immortality as something reserved for truly great (or truly lucky) teams, and hey it's totally cool if my team doesn't win the Cup. After all, 15 other playoff teams won't finish their playoffs with a Cup, either. The players on the team may precede the fans in this particular state of mind, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view on the season as a whole, and a stable (for Islanders fans) condition of emotions.
Does it feel like the Islanders left something on the table in losing to the Caps? Of course it does. But that doesn't mean good things aren't on the horizon for this team.
Yes, they're leaving the Coliseum and the only home they've ever known. No, Barclays Center isn't the ideal hockey setup. But with a young core under contract, the additions of key free agents last offseason (all with term on their deals), and the bitter taste of defeat to fuel them this summer, the Islanders are far from the down-and-out days of the rebuild.
We just have to accept that 2015 wasn't their year.