By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
To fans of teams that routinely make the Stanley Cup playoffs, celebration in one form or another is nothing new. Their creativity knows no bounds. And with YouTube being what it is, well, one can compile quite a collection of keepsakes.
But for Islanders fans, the idea of doing a victory lap after a postseason game inside Nassau Coliseum is somewhat of an alien concept to those who have been lucky enough to be spoiled by playoff success.
The Islanders are very much alive and well following their emotional 6-4 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, their first home playoff win in 11 years. And when it was over and the reality of this series now being even through four games started to sink in, Isles fans did that victory lap inside the narrow corridors of the old barn, turning what’s been reserved as a pathway to a hopefully quick exit onto Long Island’s highways into an atmosphere more reserved for a World Cup soccer match.
(WARNING: Some foul language toward the end of the clip.)
Isles fans did an assortment of chants — mostly in unison — paying homage to a team that is leaving the rest of the hockey world with no choice but to finally put all the talk of irrelevance to bed and accept the fact that the long summer is over. The rebuild has worked and the team that now wears the once-feared map of the Island crest will in all likelihood remain at the very least relevant for the foreseeable future.
I don’t have to tell you, but will anyway — Islanders fans have waited forever for moments like Tuesday night. Their team may not win this series, may not pull off the massive upset, but there’s been nothing to suggest over the last three games that they aren’t every bit the mighty Penguins’ equal.
New York’s resilience is catching the attention of everyone. The Islanders are, simply put, fun to watch and both the broadcast and social media worlds are taking notice. Back in the day the Isles were known for their “never say die” attitude. Well, it’s back, and it’s pretty scary considering what can happen when a team gets on that magical roll. The Isles are not there yet, but if they somehow win Thursday in Pittsburgh and then come back to the coliseum Saturday with a chance to close out Sidney Crosby and Co., there’s no telling what the reaction will be.
And if the Isles fail, there will certainly be disappointment, but fans will be able to take solace in night’s like Tuesday and the undeniable fact that the angst and stupidity that came with two decades of mostly futility is now just a cautionary tale, a period of time when a seemingly endless trip through darkness did eventually come to an end.
And the heat of the spotlight became something one could get used to.
CASEY ON A ‘ZEEK’ AND DESTROY MISSION
Casey Cizikas has quietly gone about his business this season and earned not just a permanent spot on the roster, but also some much-warranted praise.
The third-line winger had just 15 points during the regular season, but his contributions on the Isles’ energy line, along with Matt Martin and Colin McDonald, have been much more than simply numbers. Whenever this team has needed a spark, more often than not it has been the third line that has provided it. Cizikas, a surprisingly rugged forward considering his 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame, has slowly morphed into the type of nasty, do-it-all-but-fill-the-scoresheet player good teams absolutely must have to advance far in the playoffs.
He has four points in the last two games, including a goal and two assists and a plus-4 rating in the Islanders’ Game 4 victory.
He may never be more than a role player, but there’s no denying the importance of the role Cizikas plays on this team.
ON THE STREIT/STRAIT AND NARROW
After I wrote my controversial column earlier this week on Crosby’s tendency to flop like a fish and never get called for it, many of the comments directed at me — at least the ones that weren’t filled with profanity — focused on just how poor a player Brian Strait is, how he’s this scrap heap scrub that’s so typical of how the Islanders operate within their low budget blueprint.
Of course, the people who said that were Penguins fans, so I’m sure they were just thrilled when Strait scored the first goal on Tuesday. After all, Strait was once a Penguin. This isn’t a case of Strait being wronged by Pittsburgh. The Pens’ defense corps speaks for itself, but this notion that the Islanders were foolish for signing him and then giving him a three-year deal is just silly. He’s been reliable when healthy and likely will play an integral role in solidifying the Isles’ blue line for the next few years.
As for Mark Streit, the angst directed at him comes from within. Islanders fans, not all but many, seem to have a serious problem with how he plays in the team’s own end, and much of their angst is warranted. Streit is not the greatest defender in the world, and the skills he once had have deteriorated a bit. But, he wasn’t brought here some years ago to be a stay-at-home lockdown d-man. He was brought here to do what he did Tuesday night — pile up points.
Streit had two goals and an assist, and has five points and a plus-1 rating in the series.
I think fans should cut him some slack. The Islanders will likely address the big, bruising takeaway defenseman over the summer, but not at the expense of their captain. Expect Streit to return despite his expected flirtation with unrestricted free agency. It will just be a matter of who blinks first on the length of the contract.
One of the big criticisms of the modern day NHL has been the lack offense, but that’s improved somewhat in recent years. I’m not going to lie. I love games featuring firewagon hockey, up and down the ice and goals galore.
But that’s going to have to change at some point if the Islanders are really serious about advancing far in the postseason.
While I won’t go so far as to say Evgeni Nabokov has been brutal in this series, it’s hard to look at a 4.56 goals-against average and .846 save percentage and feel overly confident. Now, granted, the Islanders have done little to help Nabokov out, taking far too many penalties through the first three games before limiting the Penguins to just two unsuccessful power-play opportunities on Tuesday. I think the combination of Pittsburgh’s offense being ridiculous and the Islanders’ defense being suspect more often than stellar has lent itself to Nabokov’s struggles.
Still, on the penalty kill or at even strength, Nabokov has to make more timely saves than he has so far.
Just ask Marc-Andre Fleury. He may not play another postseason game this season after looking utterly clueless during parts of Games 2 and 3, before completely imploding in Game 4. Because of that, Penguins coach Dan Byslma has tabbed veteran Tomas Vokoun as his starter for Game 5.
Vokoun has owned the Islanders during his career, going 17-7-1 with a 1.95 GAA, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in 26 career appearances, including 25 starts, but one has to wonder just how sharp he will be considering he hasn’t played since April 22.
On top of that, the Islanders he will be facing this time around are likely better than any he’s seen during his 15-year career.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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