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Islanders Back & Forth: Shutout-a-rama, Alleviated Anxiety and Miller (Maybe) Memories

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

New York Rangers v New York Islanders
Wow. Terry Sawchuk?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Once again, the week started off on the wrong foot. But by the weekend, we were dancing.

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

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Game 49: 1-0 loss to the Capitals

The very, very wrong foot to start on. One of the most pathetic, demoralizing, depressing late season games I’ve ever seen from this team. Yes, one goal - scored 1:10 into the game - was the final difference on the scoresheet, but that doesn’t even almost cover what happened.

The Islanders, for the third game in a row against a team directly in front of them in the standings and potentially awaiting them in the playoffs, sleepwalked through 60 minutes of ineffective and impotent hockey. Even with a chance to tie the game with a few minutes left in the third period on a rare 4-on-3 powerplay and possibly erase the stink of their previous seven periods, they could barely muster a legit scoring chance, watched the clock run out and simply limped off the ice.

It’s clear that Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac have struggled to find roles in Barry Trotz’s lineup. They’ll need to figure something out before the playoffs start. Because the Capitals, Penguins and Bruins are already there. This three-game beatdown was all the evidence you need.

Games 50 and 51: 4-0 win over the Rangers and 3-0 win over the Rangers

I’ll combine these two together because they were just that awesome. The first game was more of a Classic Islanders performance than a dominating one, and that’s just fine. The Islanders needed a win badly and needed to keep their rivals’ playoff hopes on ice. They did both with workmanlike efficiency. The second game was a it’s-mine-I’m-taking-it victory, a ruthless snuffing out of a rival’s season and a goaltending clinic that rewrote the Islanders record book.

Eric Hornick’s post-game Skinny has an entire section upfront about just how ridiculous Semyon Varlamov has been lately. A shutout streak lasting 213+ minutes, tying Chico Resch for most shutouts in a season for an Islander, first goalie since expansion to shutout the same team four times in a season and so on. A whole lotta dudes who played in the 50’s and 60’s suddenly got some new company. Outside of a few breakaways, many of the chances in both games didn’t seem all that dangerous. But Varlamov and his defenders were clearly in synch for both games and the Rangers barely got a sniff of the inside of the net.

That it was all done against the Rangers, of all teams, makes it even better. Guess all those fancy goals and ink spilled over their future arriving early didn’t amount to a whole lot. And now it will be the franchise’s lasting memory of their last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum.

There’s another (possibly less-hyperbolic, but equally as bothersome) way to look at the sweep by the Caps, and that was that Washington just outplayed the Islanders because, well, they’re really good. Perhaps they’re just so good that the Islanders only looked like they were skating in frozen yogurt for three games. If that’s the case, then the same could be said for this two-game sweep of the Rangers, where the Islanders simply did what they do against a surging but inferior opponent. I’m still worried for the playoffs but I hope these wins (and expected ones against the Devils and Sabres) are confidence builders.

Personally, I can’t tell you how much these games helped my psyche and mental state. I felt like I had been walking around like a zombie since last Thursday, still trying to mentally process just how badly the Islanders shit themselves against the Capitals and what it all means. Wins against the Rangers are always good but these were something different on a lot of levels.

Record for the week: 2-1-0

Season Record: 31-15-5

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Monday, May 3 and Tuesday, May 4 at the Sabres

Remember when Ryan Miller was, if not actually rumored, at least somewhat of a possibility for the Islanders?

When the Thomas Vanek trade happened (and please don’t re-litigate it yet again), there was a belief that Garth Snow had tried - or wanted, or at least should have wanted - to get Miller instead of or maybe even in addition to Vanek. Either Snow wasn’t willing to fork over the kind of prospects the Sabres wanted in return, didn’t have them anyway or Miller wouldn’t waive his NTC to come to the Island. The whole thing could have been total bullshit but at the time, the Islanders were a good team that couldn’t get a save, Buffalo was just beginning its descent into previously uncharted depths of the Playoff Negative Zone and Miller was a UFA still playing at a high level. It seemed like a good match.

Alas, we know how it turned out. Miller and subhuman Steve Ott were traded to the Sabres for a buncha dudes, a first rounder and Jaroslav Halak, who found his way to the Islanders after being laundered through Washington. That offseason, Miller signed with Vancouver and played there for a few years before settling in as a back-up in Anaheim.

The goalie announced last week that he will retire at the end of this season and it’ll be interesting to see how the Sabres treat the guy who is essentially the second best goalie in franchise history. Miller was lights out for a few years, but aside from the great teams that went on runs to back-to-back Eastern Conferences finals, those Sabres clubs weren’t all that good. He won the Vezina in 2009-10 by winning 41 games for a 100-point team that lost in the first round.

The current Sabres are obviously not all that good, either. But they’ve been playing well over the last few weeks and it would be dumb for the Islanders to overlook them when these points could still be important. So don’t play like 2009 Ryan Miller is in goal.

Thursday, May 6 and Saturday, May 8 vs the Devils

Sometimes playing in obscurity is good. Sure, you barely get any credit when things are going well. But when things aren’t going well, having no one pay attention to you is kind of a blessing.

This is my way of saying that the Devils recently snapped a 10-game losing streak that I’m not even sure anyone noticed they were on outside of their own fanbase. They went nearly the entire month of April without a win and hadn’t had a home victory since the middle of March.

That’s pretty bleak and people connected to the team are probably thankful that it barely registered outside of Newark. They beat the Flyers three times last week (talk about a team whose terrible season definitely won’t go unnoticed) and can still mess things up for the Islanders as one of their final opponents this season. So, again: don’t let that happen.

Predicted record for the week: 4-0. Anything else would be a letdown.

Canadian Sportswriters Say The Darnedest Things:

From the producers of “Jimmy Vesey having his third chat in 10 days with an assistant coach at practice.” comes “Alex Burrows doing a lot of talking, Cole Caufield doing a lot of listening.”

Just incredible inside information you can’t get anywhere else. Players talking to assistant coaches at practice. What will Canada innovate next?

I guess whatever Burrows said must have worked because Caufield scored his first NHL goal in style on Saturday night.

(“Bilbo?” Is that his official nickname or just a short joke? Are Brendan Gallagher or Paul Byron “Frodo?” Is Shea Weber “Gandalf?” So many questions. )

Caufield is the latest young player to be thrust into the Habs lineup with the hope that he will drag the historic franchise back to the heights they enjoyed in the 80’s and early 90’s, if not the dynastic 60’s or 70’s. This, of course, never happens but if you’ve been force fed a diet of stories about how blessed your franchise is, it’s easy to believe it could happen.

Maybe Caufield can bring the electricity he showed in college to Montreal and sparks Les Canadiens to a new golden age. Or maybe his soul gets crushed by playing in a market that will analyze and overanalyze his every bowel movement in an effort to prove he’s trash and the Habs will be better without him until they trade him for a bag of pucks and then wonder why they’re still stuck in the NHL’s mushy middle.

Either way, at least he got some tips from Alex Burrows on how to bite someone’s finger or knee them in the head.

Alternate Programming Options:

The NHL is coming to Turner stations like TNT and TBS next season, and it’s a big deal. Like everything else, the reasoning has to do with money ($1.57 billion-worth) but it’s also a chance for hockey to be seen by several million new sets of eyeballs that normally wouldn’t have any interest or interaction with the sport.

As Mike and I have talked about before, unless you were a hockey or English soccer fan, there’s almost no reason you would have ever had to tune into NBCSN. So while the NHL came up a lot in that very small pond, it barely made a ripple in the vast oceans of sports programming next to it. Turner has a chance to lure folks watching the NBA, MLB or other shows into the NHL’s orbit. The same - if not more so - goes for ESPN. Whether they stay in the NHL’s orbit is a different question.

That said, to this day, when I think of Turner stations, I go to TBS first. And when I think of TBS, I still think of one thing: WCW Wrestling. When we used to visit my godparents’ house out in Smithtown, the adults would play cards and the kids (i.e. me, since there were no others), would watch this weird channel we didn’t have at home that had this insane wrestling that looked like it beamed in from an alternate dimension.

I had my WWF on Saturdays and knew its roster inside and out. But WCW - with its Four Horsemen and its Sting and its Road Warriors and its “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes - felt fresh and different. Maybe it wasn’t as slick and well produced, but it was bursting with energy and what felt like real danger.

I mean, this guy Ric Flair seemed like a real nut. Whenever I saw him in a wrestling magazine, he always seemed to have blood on his face. And seeing him on TV meant he was either screaming at this dweeb Tony Schiavone or strutting in the ring. What a maniac.

Of course, WCW is now the property of WWE (not “F”), which to my 11-year-old mind would have been unthinkable. I know TBS has come a very, very long way since then, but even just typing those three letters again makes me think of promos for exotic things like “Starcade ‘89.”

As for its sister station, TNT, well, that means a totally different thing from a totally different time in my life: Law & Order.

I spent over a decade watching this show non-stop, mainly on TNT, which played the older - and if you as me, better - episodes. About 15 years ago, right around the time my wife and I got married, L&O seemed to be on TNT for 18 hours a day until prime time, when the channel would play its newer shows like Rizzoli & Isles, The Last Ship or the late, lamented Franklin & Bash. I have no idea if any of those shows were actually good. Our focus was strictly on the 27th precinct and all of the intricate crimes they and the district attorneys on duty that season could solve.

I’m a staunch Briscoe and Logan stan, with Briscoe and Green a close second. Either way, it’s gotta have Jerry Orbach or it’s no sale. I still miss him.

Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:

The season coming down to the wire. Emotions are high. And man, no one calls a line brawl better than Rick Jeanneret.