There’s a reason to believe that these New York Islanders are building something different. It is time to finally jump on the bandwagon.
This team is very much real. And it is very much a team in every meaning of the word.
The Islanders now hold a 2-0 advantage in their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. A 3-1 win on Friday night called upon strong performances on both ends of the ice. As a team, the Islanders are defying the naysayers who said that they couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything this year.
There was no sign of a hangover from Wednesday night’s overtime win, no letdown from the emotional high of a packed Coliseum in the return of playoff hockey after a long hiatus. The Islanders came out strong, with a distinct edge in the first period in shots (11:7) and hits (10:4), showing a team that was focused and engaged.
And when they went down, they responded like a team built to make a playoff run.
The Islanders literally showed fight in their first goal, a tremendous response to the Penguins scoring first midway through the second period. The Penguins’ goal, very much against the direction of play no less, was scrappy. It was then answered by a good team effort from the Islanders, a gritty goal to level the score.
Then the fight that they showed after the goal, when three Islanders raced to defend Mathew Barzal who was on the ice scrapping, showed why this team is special. There is a spine in this team that gives them a very unique bit of bite on the ice. This team is more than talent, it is a collection of skill and courage.
This team has a collective belief in each other, in what coach Barry Trotz is building into their core. It is something that can’t be bought. What might be happening is that a bit of their home ice advantage is rubbing off on this squad.
On Wednesday night, the storyline from the overtime win was the return of playoff hockey to the Coliseum and the fans response. The theme from Friday night was that this team has now taken on the persona of their playoff home.
There is a reputation about Long Island that, for better or for worse, is known throughout the country. The people here on the Island are unique and diverse, but every man and woman has a certain charge within their veins. Long Islanders don’t take kindly to losing, whether it is a parking spot in a crowded lot or seeing their beloved team on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
This is an island of scrappers and fighters. So are these Islanders.
These Islanders, when they went down, didn’t stay down. When one of their own was in a fight, they raced to join him as a team.
When Jordan Eberle scored at 7:54 in the third period for a 2-1 lead, it was a sign that this team is done with the futility. Josh Bailey’s goal at 11:38 to make it a two-goal lead simply underscored that this team is done with the narrative that has been written about them for the better part of three decades.
They could have folded after the Penguins went up in the middle. Instead, the Islanders dug down deep. They fought with their fists. They fought for three goals as a response on the scoreboard. And now they control the series as it heads to Pittsburgh.
There is a reason to believe that this team can be special, can do something and make a run.
A belief is in this group, an identity that goes beyond the futility and frustration of the past. It is in the here and now that the Islanders are winning.
It is their time perhaps to write a new chapter in this organization’s history.