I feel physically exhausted by these games, and I’ve only been watching them on the TV. And there are still more to go.
First, let’s look back at the (down but never out) week that was.
Last week for the New York Islanders:
Playoff Game 8: 3-2 OT win over the Bruins
The hope before the playoffs even started was that the Islanders would “flip a switch” and look like themselves after a sluggish month or so. The switch wasn’t totally flipped against the Penguins but something definitely got flipped between the first and second periods of this game. After 20 minutes, I was sure the Islanders would be swept. After 40, I thought they’d win in five.
Neither will happen but it’s remarkable how quickly things can turn around. I have no idea what Barry Trotz said after the first but it certainly woke his players up.
And enough can’t be said for Casey Cizikas breaking his five-year playoff goal slump in the most dramatic fashion possible. Whenever a guy who’s been on a team for a long, long time does something, I think it’s hard for fans outside of that team’s sphere to fully understand the importance of it. Non-Islanders fans can see Cizikas score that OT goal, recognize the drought, know he’s been an Islander for a long and still not fully feel the moment.
For us, who have watched him go from the draft to the Sound Tigers to the Islanders to being an integral part of a signature line combination spanning two eras, that goal means a helluva lot more. That celebration seemed to have a little bit of extra love in it.
Cizikas is a UFA at the end of this season and I’m trying not to think about it. I have no idea what the Islanders would do without him. I can picture him either signing a big contract elsewhere for an amount the Islanders can’t afford to give him, or signing some dirt cheap NHLPA-unfriendly deal to stay with his BFFs forever. That’s a long way from being the guy who worried that his last contract extension was a bit too generous for a fourth line center.
Now, let’s hope he doesn’t go another five years without scoring a playoff goal...
Playoff Game 9: 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins
In the first two games of this series, I though the NBC broadcasting crew of John Forslund, Joe Micheletti and Pierre (ugh) McGuire had been pretty fair to both teams. The Bruins obviously dominated Game 1 and the Islanders took control of the middle and back halves of Game 2. I didn’t think they focused too hard on either side and made time for players up and down the lineups.
In this one, though, sounded like a Bruins home broadcast. Jack Edwards was probably sitting at home, so jealous he was as green as the grass on the rolling hills of Lexington and Concord before the historic first battles of the Revolutionary War. The only Islander who seemed to get any attention was Adam Pelech, who McGuire apparently wants to adopt as his own son.
Despite the shot totals and the voices, I never felt the Islanders were being dominated by Boston. We’ve seen the Islanders be dominated, as recently as Game 1 of this series and into the previous series with the Penguins, and this was not that. Each team had nine high danger chances and scoring chances for were much closer than the raw shot totals. The Islanders had opportunities to score and Tuukka Rask was spectacular. Semyon Varlamov was, too. Until he suddenly wasn’t.
Brad Marchand’s OT winner was a bad one, for sure. It was a rare result for Varlamov who made 39 saves prior to that, not mention a million more over the course of the regular season. It was an unfortunate, fluky loss after an encouraging, engaging game.
It’s possible to blame the goalie for that one while also praising him for the other 99% of his performance. That doesn’t erase the hurt and pain of a major playoff loss, but what can you do?
Playoff Game 10: 4-1 win over the Bruins
The best part of this, now vintage, Mathew Barzal breakout performance wasn’t even the goal, assist and uh, physicality, he was involved in. It was what he did after the game. No, not the “Our House” declaration when he skated out on the Nassau Coliseum ice for his First Star of the Game honors (although that was cool, too). It was what he said in his post-game presser about never having lost confidence in himself, even as he wasn’t find the back of the net. He talked about how little space there is to find in the playoffs normally and how, as long as the Islanders were winning and he felt he played well, he was okay with it.
Now, this might be all hot air, but I sincerely doubt it. I think Barzal knows that team success is what ultimately is what people judge a player on and that his chances will come. He knows he can score ridiculous goals that few other humans can ever dream of accomplishing. He knows he can take over a game all by himself. He knows he’s among the NHL’s very best players.
He also knows that winning games, particularly playoff games, is what really counts. Would he prefer to play with someone else on his wing other than Leo Komarov? Maybe. Is he okay playing with Leo as long as the Islanders keep playing this season? Definitely.
That said, please stop spearing him in the nuts. Thanks.
Record for the week: 2-1
Playoff Record: 6-4
Next week for the New York Islanders:
Monday, June 7 at the Bruins, Wednesday, June 9 vs the Bruins, and Friday, June 11th at the Bruins
So where does this series go from here? Besides back to Boston for two games with a return to Uniondale sandwiched in the middle? I have no idea, and neither do you. These have been three of the tightest playoff games we’ve ever seen (we’ll forget about Game 1) and the results could have gone either way. It’s no surprise that it’s tied, but it could get untied very quickly.
Bruce Cassidy is an excellent coach and he knows exactly what he’s doing, talking up Tuukka Rask’s “nagging” injuries and complaining about the refs by “not” complaining about them. This is all part of the game, the same with Barry Trotz’s ongoing “we’re starting the Russian goalie” comedy bit. I don’t know what kind of edge they think it’s getting them, but I put nothing past either of them, or really any coach worth his salt in the NHL. Trotz, I trust. I don’t trust Cassidy, and I mean that with the utmost respect.
Predicted record for the week: 2-1.
Canadian Sportswriters Say The Darnedest Things:
Where to start with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team so consistent they’ve decided to give an entire generation of fans the same exact playoff result year after year? The Leafs haven’t progressed past the first round since 2004, a span of 17 years that has been torturous to their massive fanbase and hilarious to everyone else. This season was almost too good - or bad - to be true, with the big money, big name Leafs running roughshod over a Canadian-only division all but guaranteed to deliver them a trip to the final four on a silver platter, then proceeding to blow a 3-1 lead in a series against a bitter rival that worked harder and simply didn’t quit despite a double-digit difference in regular season points.
I don’t want to throw too many stones at the Leafs players, since the Islanders only recently snapped their own 23-year streak of first round flameouts. Instead, we’ll focus on the fawning, drooling, water-carrying army of print, video and radio fanboys that will now spend the summer and all of next season crying about Toronto’s latest hockey disaster.
The professional obituaries came fast and furious from the usual sources. Sportsnet, which normally operates as a de facto arm of the Leafs PR department, wants to assure Leafs Nation that everything will be fine because the players are just as devastated as the fans are, changes are coming, and, hey, the Raptors eventually won so why not the Leafs? Even even-keeled Elliotte Friedman is adamant Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has some big move up his sleeve because hope needs to be kept alive for the customers.
Over at The Athletic, the normally analytics-inclined geek squad all went haywire, trying desperately understand how all of these high numbers could result in yet another series loss. Is The Fantastically Expensive Four keeping the rest of the roster from getting better? Is The Shanaplan actually wrong? Is Dom okay? Is Mitch Marner refusing to do what’s best to help the Leafs’ lackluster power play? Was this article pulled from The Athletic after it kicked up enough of a firestorm that Marner angrily denied it at his exit interview? The questions all have questions of their own.
Our friends at Pension Plan Puppets have been besides themselves for the last few days so we’ll give ‘em a break. Leafs fans everywhere are down in the dumps, from media guys with ties to them, to doctors whose opinion on sports matter for some reason to... uh that face-painter guy who hung a cigarette out of this mouth that one time. Talk about a real Algonquin Round Table there...
Finally, of course, there is vlogger and professional shouter Steve Dangle, who seems pretty sick and tired of being the designated angry dancing monkey for a constantly aggrieved fanbase that stretches all across the globe. On his post-game Leafs Fan Report after Game 7, he seems angry about his need to be angry for all of the other angry Leafs fans out there, but that’s still not enough to sway him from the baked-in Toronto myopia of expecting Toronto-born players to put a special emphasis on winning a Stanley Cup for Toronto. That’s probably bad news for every local boy that’s won a Cup on another team since 1967. Or it’s narcissistic bullshit.
Later on his podcast, Dangle seems flat out exhausted while his two know-it-all co-hosts and a couple of special guests diagnose where the Leafs go from here. Poor Steve might be just about done with the whole thing and he’s definitely not in the mood to discuss whether Toronto can re-sign Zach Hyman or trade for Seth Jones. To be fair, I’ve been done with them for a while, too.
The best part is, the angst will continue indefinitely until the Leafs finally do win a round. That means the entirety of this summer and the next regular season and, assuming they blow it again, all of the following summer and regular season, too. And so on and so on. Let’s hope it’s forever.
At least one (completely insane) person has the answer for the Leafs: build a time machine and keep Lou Lamoriello as GM.
Alternate Programming Options:
I shouldn’t surprise any longtime LHH readers to find out that I grew up a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the one-of-a-kind-puppets-snark-and-awful-movies TV series that’s had an odd existence from local cable weirdness to mainstream love status. Reading this list of 25 Essential MST3K episodes was a reminder of how many episodes I haven’t seen and my need to take two weeks off from life one of these days and just plow through them.
The good news is that a ton of episodes are available for free on a few streaming services right now. Tubi has dozens of episodes including my all time favorite, Mitchell, a forgettable would-be TV pilot starring Joe Don Baker that turned into an indisputably classic episode of MST3K.
Pluto TV has an entire MTSK3K channel that just plays the show non-stop for as long as you have it on. You can’t choose what comes on, but who cares? Both the Tubi and Pluto apps can be found on PCs, tables and smart TV so you can watch anywhere. The show’s official YouTube channel also has a bunch of full episodes if you prefer to stick to an app you already probably know, but the selection is limited.
I could seriously watch this all day, even the earlier episodes when the kinks and characters were still being worked out. MST3K is still one of the most original, creative and enduring comedy shows to come out in the last 30-years or so, which is all the more remarkable when you take into account it started out being made for about $50 an episode out of a small studio in Minnesota. That cheesiness only adds to its appeal. Wasn’t John Saxon in this movie?
Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:
Remember this? My, how they grow up. Seemed like yesterday Mat Barzal was playing video games with Dennis Seidenberg’s kids. Those kids are in college now. True story.