I know the hockey blogs with all the percentages say the chances are slim, but there is still a chance. For the team, I believe that means something. They know there were several missed opportunities to secure points throughout the season. They know they dug themselves a hole starting with the huge chunk of home games at the start of the year. But right now, it’s about staying alive. The Isles are without six of the regular players including the captain John Tavares.
Despite the injuries, the players haven’t given up on each other.
Here are a few players who I believe have earned some extra attention this week.
Just call him Mr. Overtime. Thomas Hickey has struggled the past few weeks and has been a healthy scratch a handful of times. With the injury bug striking again and with Shane Prince out, head coach Doug Weight needed to dress seven defensemen and have someone take a few shifts on the wing. Hickey impressed his coaches and teammates during the Nashville game, his first at forward.
Hickey impressed his coaches and teammates during the Nashville game, his first at forward. He put the sprinkles on the ice cream when he netted his second overtime game-winner of the season.
He laughed with me after the game about how it wasn’t pretty. But hey, a goal is a goal and that was one of the biggest this season for the Islanders.
It was tough for Jaroslav Halak when he was sent down to the AHL. He always believed he was an NHL goaltender and couldn’t wait to prove that to the Isles and the rest of the hockey world. So far, so good. He’s won all of his starts since rejoining the blue-and-orange on March 24 and is 4-1-0 with 1.82 goals against average and .939 save percentage during that span. He’s the hot goalie and Weight has said all along that’s who he wants in net this time of the year.
Anders Lee broke his leg last year in the final week of the regular season. It was devastating watching his teammates battle through the first round of the playoffs and going on to the second round without him. Fast forward through the summer to the start of the current season: Lee struggled to get on the scoreboard. However, once things started to click, the goals came pouring in. He scored his 30th and 31st of the season on Sunday and is continuing to improve on a career season.
Lee has seven multi-goal games and will finish as the Isles’ top goal-scorer this season. Weight gave him a huge compliment before the game in Nashville, saying Anders was their most reliable 200-foot player on the team. The Isles would not be where they are without No. 27.
I love NHL debuts. I get very emotional thinking about what that night means for the player and their family. All the early mornings, the training, the injuries, the effort to get to the top level of the game. It makes me smile every time. But this week Connor Jones’ NHL debut story took things to a totally different level.
The Isles were in need of another forward after Tavares sustained an injury during Friday’s game against the Devils. They called up the 26-year-old from Bridgeport for Sunday’s game in Buffalo. We spoke with Jones before the game and he shared his excitement about the opportunity. He was glad to have his twin brother, Kellen, and his parents at the game.
Kellen and Connor have played together their entire lives. They even played together in college at Quinnipiac and together on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
If the story ended there it would still give you goosebumps. After the game, I found out that Sunday’s matchup was the first NHL tilt Connor and his brother had ever attended. Yes, you read that correctly. They made a pact when they were younger that they wouldn’t go to an NHL game until one of them made it to the show.
Connor went on to share how there were times they both questioned the decision to wait. They wondered how long they should hold out before giving up the dream. Sports provide some of the best story lines in all of television. This one is right up there on my list.
There are three games to go and the Isles have to win all three to have a chance at moving on. They also need help from other teams in the mix, but worrying about that doesn’t help. Instead, they will keep humming along to The Bee Gees and take it one period at a time.