The New York Islanders will make the Playoffs. That we know. Their opponent, however, is a mystery.
If the Islanders get a point tomorrow in Washington D.C., they will secure home ice and Game 1 will be at NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. That is the goal.
If that happens, the Islanders would play either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Carolina Hurricanes. If the Penguins do not get a point and the Hurricanes get two points, the Hurricanes will head to Hempstead. Any other situation and the Penguins will come to town.
If the Islanders do not get a point, that is where things get complicated. If the Penguins win, the Islanders would travel to Pittsburgh to battle Sidney Crosby’s squad, which would certainly not be ideal after a magical, Cinderella season for the blue and orange.
While the focus will be on getting two points tomorrow, the Islanders have given themselves a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. After losing John Tavares in free agency, picking up scraps to replace him, and being pegged to finish in last place, it is hard to complain about the season this team has had. No one expected the Islanders to be this good.
Barry Trotz has completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent memory, turning the Islanders into one of the best teams in hockey just a year removed from being one the worst.
Playing in front of a packed crowd at Fort Neverlose never hurts. Perhaps the most dense arena in the NHL gives the Islanders an advantage unmatched by other teams.
“Look at how much fun they’re having,” Trotz told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post in December. “Play with that atmosphere all year, that’s at least a dozen points.”
That they did. After a slate of games at the Barn, the Islanders finished 12-7-2, selling out 14 times. On average, the Coliseum was filled to 97.1% capacity.
Bringing that over to the Playoffs is dangerous. Home ice matters, and that is what the Islanders will fight for tomorrow night. But that doesn’t mean Trotz and the Islanders are scoreboard hunting and focusing on their opponent.
“You want to be in first all the time but, in the playoffs, you still have to be the best team so it really doesn’t matter who you play,” Trotz told Andrew Gross of Newsday. “We’ve just got to finish strong here and hope to get home-ice advantage… for our fans.”
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