The 2018-19 NHL season was a welcome surprise for New York Islanders fans. However, now that the bar has been set, playoff success is now expected.
Before I venture into the New York Islanders playoff series against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, I would like to take one final look back at their wonderful 2018-19 regular season.
The Islanders finished with 48 wins and 103 points, the most for this franchise since the 1983-84 season. They finished with 24 wins on the road and at home, marking the first time in franchise history that they achieved those totals in the same season. They totaled 52 points at home and 51 points on the road, marking their first 50-50 season since 1980-81.
LEHNER AND GREISS WIN JENNINGS TROPHY
For the first time since the 1982-83 season when Billy Smith and Rollie “the goalie” Melanson trolled the net, the Islanders won the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.
Robin Lehner‘s save percentage of .930 was the highest in franchise history, besting the .928 mark set by Glen “Chico” Resch in 1975-76. Both Lehner (25) and Tomas Greiss (23) finished with 23 wins, marking just the second time in franchise history two goalies won that many games in the same season. In 1978-79 Resch (26) and Smith (25) accomplished that.
The Islanders 196 goals allowed were 101 fewer goals then they allowed last season, marking the single greatest improvement in franchise history. They also became the first team in modern NHL history (since 1942) to go from allowing the most goals in the prior season to allowing the fewest the next.
PENGUINS FAMILIAR PLAYOFF OPPONENT
On Wednesday, the Islanders will start their best-of-7 First Round playoff series against the Penguins. This series also marks the first time since the 1988 Patrick Division Semis that they own home-ice advantage, a span of 31 years. This will mark the fifth time these two teams have met in the postseason.
The Islanders had won their previous three series meetings against the Penguins before falling in six games to Pittsburgh in the Quarterfinals of the 2013 playoffs.
FIRST MEETING WAS HISTORIC
When the teams first met in the NHL postseason during the 1975 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, the Islanders overcame a 3-0 series deficit to rally and defeat the Penguins in seven games. They were just the second team in history to erase a 3-0 series deficit at that time, joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins came shockingly close to eliminating the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions in the 1982 Patrick Division Semis despite finishing with 43 fewer points during the regular season. Pittsburgh held a 3-1 lead with just under six minutes remaining in Game 5 of the best-of-5 series. However, goals by Mike McEwen and John Tonelli in the final 5:37 tied the game that saw the Tonelli light lamp in overtime to eliminate Pittsburgh. That vaulted the Islanders to their third of four straight Stanley Cups.
In a reverse of their 1982 playoff matchup, the Islanders were the underdog taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals. Pittsburgh finished with 32 more regular season points than the Islanders who also had to play without Pierre Turgeon who was injured in the Islanders victory over the Capitals in the Patrick Division Semis.
Turgeon put together one of the best regular seasons in team history, finishing with 58 goals and 74 assists. Only Mike Bossy scored more goals in a season in franchise history and only Bossy and Brian Trottier finished with more points (Bossy 147 in 1980-81 and Trottier with 134 in 1978-79). However, in what was one of professional sports worst displays of sportsmanship, Dale Hunter of the Capitals checked Turgeon into the boards after he netted the fifth goal with 11:29 gone in the final period to give the Islanders an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
Turgeon was not expecting the cheap shot from Hunter and slammed into the boards, separating his shoulder and knocking him out for the series against the Penguins. If the Islanders had a slim chance of defeating the Penguins with Turgeon, they had almost no chance without him.
Despite one of the worst, most criminal acts in professional sports, the Islanders would amazingly defeat the Penguins in seven games. In the final game, the Islanders were the ones holding a 3-1 lead with under five minutes remaining in the final period. However, goals by Ron Francis (16:13) and Rick Tocchet (19:00) tied the game and forced overtime. Unlike 1982, the underdog prevailed, as David Volek netted his second goal of the game 5:16 into overtime to eliminate the defending champs.
In a sad note, Turgeon would never be the same after that criminal assault by Hunter. I still cringe and want to see eternal torment come to Hunter every time I hear his name. Hunter destroyed a promising career by the then 23-year old Turgeon. He only played one more season for the Islanders and never again posted a 40-goal season or 100-point season for the remainder of his career which ended at age 37.
MEETINGS THIS SEASON
The Islanders and Penguins have played four times with the teams splitting the four meetings. On Oct. 30, Jordan Eberle scored two goals and Ryan Pulock posted three assists as the Islanders defeated the Penguins 6-3. The evening was very emotional, highlighted by a video paying tribute to those slain in the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
The two teams met just two nights later at the Barclays Center with the Islanders again defeating the Penguins 2-1. The game was decided in a shootout and when Tomas Griess stopped Kris Letang, the Islanders earned the extra point. The final two meetings were both won by the Penguins in almost a reverse fashion in which the Islanders won their two games.
On Dec. 6, the Penguins received two goals each from Letang and Phil Kessel in a 6-2 win. Then on Dec. 10, the Penguins defeated the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout at the Nassau Coliseum.
PLAYOFFS NOT ENOUGH
Despite the feel-good season, the Islanders have now raised hopes and expectations. Their opponent certainly does not help matters much. Entering 2017-18, the Penguins were two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. During the postseason last year, the Penguins looked tired in their second round matchup against the Capitals, losing in six games. Can a renewed bunch recapture Lord Stanely’s Cup?
The Islanders lack of playoff success finally ended in 2016 when the team snapped a streak of eight straight playoff series losses. However, the franchise has won just five of 19 playoff series since their streak of 19 consecutive series wins was snapped in the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals.
The time to stand up and make some noise has come for the New York Islanders. Can they take advantage of their situation and add more memories to an incredible season. Time will tell.