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Islanders Back & Forth: A whiff, a party and the birthplace of a culture

A weekly look at the Islanders’ most recent - and next few - games. Mostly.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Four Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Three games, one win, two losses, a bunch of soft goals and one party. And at least two more games ahead.

First, let’s look back at the (rollercoaster) week that was.

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Playoff Game 2: 2-1 loss to the Penguins

The whiff.

Right off the bat, you knew this one was gonna be different from Game 1. When Semyon Varlamov waved his glove feebly at Bryan Rust’s shot from distance, the game was already off the rails. Varlamov rallied, and so did the Islanders, but it wasn’t enough.

I was a little surprised that it was Varlamov in net and not Ilya Sorokin, who had been just fine in Game 1. Obviously, I get it. The guy could be a Vezina finalist and has been a rock throughout the season, even leading the league in shutouts. He was also often spectacular in last year’s playoff run.

So I wouldn’t call going back to Varlamov a “mistake,” exactly. I understand Barry Trotz’s trust is with his starting goalie. But it did backfire here and again in Game 3. Varlamov didn’t make all the saves he needed to although in fairness, he was very good in the second and third periods. Sadly, the end result on Tuesday was the Islanders losing by a single goal.

But a split on the road to start a playoff series is good! And surely Varlamov was done handing out cheap goals for the series. He’d be back to his old self in Game 3 at home, right?

Playoff Game 3: 5-4 loss to the Penguins

Nope! One bad goal would have been an improvement. How about three or four? Varlamov hadn’t looked that bad in a very long time, possibly as far back as that disastrous second period against the Capitals months ago. Even the saves he made didn’t look that good.

As gross as his performance was on Thursday, it would be unfair to blame both loses strictly on the goaltender. On Tuesday, the Islanders had chances, including a power play with about two minutes to go, and didn’t capitalize. We’re used to that by now. On Thursday, they capitalized repeatedly in the third period... only to let Pittsburgh take a lead right back less than two minutes later in each case.

It was infuriating and excruciating. It was hard to watch in real time and it was even worse to re-live the next day. It was the kind of performance you’d expect to see on the sixth day of a nine-day, four game road trip through Western Canada, or California or the Midwest. Not in a playoff game in your own barn against a team with a goalie you know can be had.

The truculence was fun to a point, but it seemed to energize the Penguins as much as it did the Islanders and the home crowd. In a way, that might have backfired, too.

Playoff Game 4: 4-1 win over the Penguins

The Islanders getting back into the series - thanks in large part to Ilya Sorokin’s 29 saves in a game that turned into a big family reunion - has already been analyzed, so please allow me a quick personal story.

I watched the game from my wife’s uncle’s house in Hyde Park in upstate New York, where we were visiting this weekend. It was years ago, in April of 2012, when I watched another Islanders game here and was so beside myself with frustration the team was missing the playoffs again that I started a blog and a Twitter account called “Culture of Losing.”

I wish I could remember the specific game that sparked this dark epiphany. I think it was either the 5-1 loss to the Senators or the 3-1 loss to the Devils that happened at the end of that season. All I remember was laying in this strange bed in this unfamiliar house in this foreign land and being so disgusted by yet another season of trash hockey - this one featuring a first overall pick that seemed increasingly frustrated, a cast of wild stallion outcasts, and a coach that may have had no idea what he was doing - that I had to furiously type away on my phone to get it all out. A few tweets wouldn’t have covered it and I didn’t think “HULK SMASH” would be appropriate to post on a blog of high quality and intelligence like Lighthouse Hockey.

I can picture the moment like it was yesterday. I did what anyone with a lot of feelings and no one around who understands would do; I went to Tumblr. This was the first post I croaked out at the time, followed quickly by a second, that, surprisingly, still holds true today. I kept it up for the next two years or so, but eventually LHH became my main outlet, even for the emotional stuff that may or may not have had at least one foot in reality (and my endless gratitude to Dom and everyone else for not telling me to get lost at some point).

A lot has changed since that fateful evening for both me and the Islanders. Certainly enough to fill several other Tumblr blogs with many, many, many anime gifs. Yet here I was again, in the same house, watching the same team in a completely different era with completely different expectations. And the end result was a completely different sensation. The dream, of the Islanders icing a competent, quality, consistent team still lives.

That might be the thing I remember most about this game. And wherever this series go from here, I think it will stay a happy memory.

Record for the week: 1-2

Playoff Record: 2-2

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Monday, May 24, Wednesday, May 26 and Friday, May 28 (if necessary) vs the Penguins

So what to expect from the rest of the series? I have no idea. Given what’s already gone down, the games are impossible to predict, aside from Sorokin most likely getting the starts for the Islanders.

As Mike said on this week’s episode of the podcast, it was fun watching Sorokin be so composed and quiet in net on Saturday. Newsday’s Colin Stephenson said he couldn’t remember a single memorable save Sorokin had made, and that was a wonderful thing after the chaos of Game 3.

If he continues to play that well, the Islanders will be in good shape. If he goes sideways the way Varlamov has (and again, it’s worth pointing out again that Varlamov was so good in the regular season that the one-and-a-third bad games he played last week are highly out of character and therefore very off-putting), then they are going to be in for some trouble.

Predicted record for the week: 2-0. Let’s take this.

Canadian Sportswriters General Managers Say The Darnedest Things:

Let’s check in on the woebegone Vancouver Canucks, who finally completed their hell tour through a bunch of zombie games at the end of the season while (almost) the rest of the NHL was off playing games that mattered.

There’s a rumor that the Sedin twins will be joining the team in some capacity soon, but any hope that it would be the beginning of sweeping changes to the front office were quickly squashed. The Canucks re-signed coach Travis Green to an extension, which wasn’t a given, and GM Jim Benning gave a post-season press conference that promised better days next season.

That sounds like... a lot. Almost like half a whole new team. Seems like a tall order, Jim. Benning also promised buyouts, which is a great way to get rid of guys you don’t want while also keeping them in your heart as financial albatrosses around your team’s neck for years.

Of course, fans also got the obligatory apology letter from owner Francisco Aquilini, which promised a bright future. Isn’t that cute?

The problem is, it sounds like no one’s buying what Benning and Aquilini are selling, as has been the case for a while.

Oh man. That’s a line we’ve heard around here before and has preceded more than one ninth-place finish in the division. This might not end well for Vancouver fans, but I get the feeling they already know that.

Alternate Programming Options:

Back in the 90’s, Sega pioneered the idea of downloading games over cable and into your Genesis console through its Sega Channel peripheral. For a fee, you could log in, choose from a big list of games, and play all you want (until you turned the console off). Bear in mind, this was years before cable modems were a thing.

The concept was poorly marketed, about 20 years ahead of its time and didn’t really take off. Which is a shame because Sega Channel housed a few exclusive titles that didn’t get separate cartridge releases at the time.

One of those games was Mega Man: The Wily Wars, which was essentially the first three classic NES Mega Man games upscaled to 16-bit tech. The game itself has been available online (wink wink) for years and was included in the recent Genesis Mini package. Now, it’s finally getting a proper cartridge release thanks to a super deluxe Collector’s Edition from RetroBit games. It comes with a ton of extras like cards and a reversible cover art, as well as a Mega Man blue cartridge.

That music gets me every time...

To be honest, I’ve always sucked at Mega Man games. But the chance to own this very weird entry into the series is something I had to jump on. Pre-orders are only open for the next month, so if you’re interested (and you have a working Genesis or a third party console), get over to Castlemania Games and grab one. After June 21st, they’ll be gone and exclusive only to the Sega Channel in the sky.

Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:

Tom Fitzgerald’s two shorthanded goals on the same penalty is a first ballot Islanders Trivia Question Hall of Famer. The rest of this game, and series, worked out pretty well, too.