By Failing Spectacularly Down Stretch, Team Is Torturing An Already Tortured Fan Base

By Jeff Capellini
WFAN.com

It happened so fast there wasn’t time to feel much of anything except total shock.

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The anger came later.

And the frustration and despondency over what went down in Philadelphia on Tuesday night will continue to fester until the Islanders decide to do something about it.

This renaissance season has gone off the rails. It’s not over, but it sure feels like it is to a lot of people.

Once a lock to make the playoffs and perhaps go on a long run into the spring, the Islanders have bumbled their way through the final quarter of the season. They have threatened to ruin not only the last hurrah at Nassau Coliseum, but also the belief system of a fan base that was only recently repaired following years of utter torture.

The time for “What? Us worry?” reactions by players and coaches, excuse-making by fans and the zany advanced stats defense of the team’s poor play is over. The Islanders need to man the (expletive) up, excuse my French. It’s as simple as that.

Tuesday’s insane 5-4 loss to the Flyers pushed the Isles closer to a collapse of epic proportions that literally no one saw coming back during the first five months of the season. An incredible three-goal, third-period comeback that was spearheaded by the brilliance of John Tavares died 2.1 seconds short of the finish line thanks to goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s hockey equivalent of the buttfumble.

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Now, even the most eternal optimist has to be having a moment of pause, realizing that, yes, they can actually blow this.

The question is what exactly are they potentially throwing away? The glass half-full fan is worried about home ice in the playoffs, which as of this second the Islanders (46-28-6, 98 points) don’t have. The glass half-empty fan is borderline convinced the Isles will miss the playoffs entirely, which, despite all the fear weighing down on the fan base right now, still seems unlikely.

But you’re wearing blinders if you aren’t at the very least concerned.

The math can get complicated, but the easiest way to look at it is the Islanders need one measly point over their final two games, or an Ottawa loss in its final two games to clinch a playoff berth. Sounds simple, right? Well, after the horror of Tuesday night nothing is a given.

The Isles currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point back of Washington, which is the team they would face in the first round if the season ended today. Both have two games to play, but the road to home ice appears to be more difficult for Jack Capuano’s team.

Washington plays Boston on Wednesday night. The good news is the Bruins (95 points) have a lot to play for as well. They currently sit in the second wild card position in the Eastern Conference by virtue of more ROW (wins in regulation and overtime) than surging Ottawa. Boston also sits one point back of Pittsburgh and two back of Detroit, which is in third in the Atlantic Division.

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The bad news is the Isles could use some help from, of all teams, the Rangers. However, having clinched the Presidents’ Trophy on Tuesday night, the Blueshirts have nothing to play for and will likely rest key players over their final two games, which, of course, are against Ottawa and Washington.

And, let’s be honest, no one will want to say it publicly, but why would the Rangers want to help their arch-rivals if they have nothing to gain as well? I wouldn’t put gamesmanship past anyone at this point.

The best course of action for the Islanders is to take care of business themselves. Their next chance will come Friday against the God-awful-of-late Penguins, in Pittsburgh.

But will they? It’s amazing to think now that the regular season finale against Columbus on Saturday, a.k.a potentially the final game to ever be played at Nassau Coliseum, could determine if the Islanders take the ice again this season.

That’s because a 5-8-4 slide since Feb. 28 has changed the perception of this team.

Why have the Islanders struggled for more than a month? A combination of reasons, including a lack of timely scoring by anyone not named Tavares, ill-timed poor play and a lack of desire on defense, shoddy goaltending, some whacky personnel decisions by the coaching staff, and just an overall lack of maturity that teams that have been there and done that before display.

But even with all those issues, the Isles should have clinched a playoff berth by now. It’s unfathomable to think that the team that was one of the NHL’s best stories heading into the All-Star break is now on a collision course with infamy.

And while the way the Isles started the season and performed into mid-February was refreshing, many fans have continued to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that the franchise is leaving Nassau County. It has been an underlying source of anger and frustration ever since the announcement was made a few seasons ago. And despite the overall success the team has enjoyed in 2014-15 it hasn’t been enough to make people feel better about the fact that what is theirs will soon be Brooklyn’s.

That anger has been compounded by a team that clearly does not know how to win when it matters. Sure, the Islanders have been extremely competitive during their slide. They have lost 12 of their last 17 games, but only three were by more than one goal and the majority of them were to teams either in contention for the playoffs or playing out the string with purpose.

But the bottom line is nobody wants to hear about that.

The majority of this fan base is still made up of “JIM” fans, as in people who root for the Jets and Mets as well. This group by and large has known only frustration over the last 25-30 years. And to hear them speak about the Islanders right now is to be struck upside the head by people with no hope, even though there clearly still is. They have been socialized to believe whatever can go wrong, will. The Islanders are enabling that mindset, adding to the history that has plagued the New York City area’s “other” teams.

I have seen countless tweets of late comparing this current slide to the Mets’ collapse in 2007. You know, the one where the Amazins blew a seven-game division lead after Sept. 12 and didn’t make the playoffs. Add that to the Jets’ penchant for starting seasons 9-4 or 8-5 only to miss the playoffs and you get a large percentage of the paying public that believes the writing is already on the wall as far as the rest of this hockey season goes.

The Islanders really need to think about the long-term impact of what’s left of this season. It will define them going forward in a way no 30-year-old championship banners can top.

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Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet