For Alex Ovechkin to get the Washington Captials to the Stanley Cup Final, he will have to run the gauntlet in the postseason.
The first year for the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York has resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it will be unlike any other trip to the postseason for this franchise. For the Islanders first 42 years of existence, they called the Nassau Coliseum home as they were Long Island’s hockey team. In the Isles first 12 years as a hockey franchise, they would enjoy great success as they claimed four Stanley Cup Championships. But over the years as Islanders ownership was looking at either a new arena or upgrades to the Nassau Coliseum, they were always met with resistance from county officials which eventually led to them moving to Brooklyn.
The first year in Brooklyn has seen an adjustment period for the Isles who still practice in Long Island and then commute to Brooklyn for their home games via the Long Island Rail Road which stops underneath the Barclays Center. Even with the Islanders traveling woes, they still managed to go 25-11-5 at the Barclays Center this season, but it just wasn’t that same feel when the Isles wore their famed blue jerseys.
In spite of the Islanders playing in the largest media market in the world, they finished this National Hockey League season with third lowest home attendance in the league. The Isles might still call New York home, but the idea of their original fan base in Long Island willing to consistently make the commute to Brooklyn is a pipe dream.
With fares on the Long Island Rail Road consistently increasing and the Downtown Brooklyn area lacking affordable parking, there hasn’t been the rush of residents from Long Island making the trek to New York City to see their beloved Islanders. And once you factor in that the residences surrounding the immediate area where the Barclays Center is located being mainly comprised up of people who are converted New Yorkers, the Islanders home games sound and feel like a minor-league game.
But the Islanders moving to Brooklyn was their best option as the only other possible choices on the table for them would have been to relocate to either Quebec City, Quebec, or Seattle, Washington. And after the Islanders had exhausted all of their options in Nassau County, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman knew that the franchise was in dire straits as he wanted to keep the Islanders in New York City which made the Barclays Center the most logical choice.
However there are several silver linings in these storm clouds for the Islanders as their home games in Brooklyn have allowed more fans that follow some of their key rivals such as the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils to attend games which is good for overall attendance, but that still doesn’t gives the Isles the home-ice advantage that they need. However it is a credit to Islanders head coach Jack Capuano that he has gotten his team to focus and block out the white noise as it could have been very easy for this team to go off of the deep end with all of their commuting issues and true lack of having a home-ice advantage. But the Islanders have persevered all season long in the face of it which could work to their advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin this week, there is the possibility that there could be a bump in attendance for the Islanders being that the stakes have increased and more people might be interested in watching their brand of hockey. But going forward there will have to be an increased effort by the Islanders front office to increase this local support for this club that is talented enough to make a deep run into the postseason as they don’t want to consistently play in an empty arena. The Barclays Center might be nice and shiny, but there is still a large amount of people that consider themselves true fans of the Islanders who really enjoyed the dump that was the Nassau Coliseum which gave the Isles a true home-ice advantage.
Hands down the Washington Capitals have been the best team in the National Hockey League this season. The Capitals are seeking their first Presidents’ Trophy since 2010 while also attempting to win their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. The Caps have one of the best goal scorers that the NHL has to offer in left winger Alex Ovechkin while goalie Braden Holtby is extremely difficult to score on. The Capitals also have a head coach in Barry Trotz that is battle tested while he also knows how to get the most out of his team. And once you add all of that up, this spring in D.C. could shape up to be very good for the Capitals. But even though that the Capitals are more than likely to finish with the best record in the NHL, it isn’t that cut and dry to see to see them reach the Stanley Cup Final as some long time rivals could stand in their way when the postseason rolls around.
After winning the Stanley Cup Title in 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins remained a contender in the Eastern Conference. Led by a two-time National League MVP in center Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are always a tough out in the postseason and this year’s squad is no different.
The Penguins are currently in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are only 3 points behind both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders for second place in the division. Like the Capitals, the Pens have a sharp goalie of their own in Marc-Andre Fleury who’s 2.32 goals against average is 14th in the National Hockey League this season. With the likes of Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin who is currently injured, the Penguins have always had solid scoring, but they added to that last summer when they acquired right winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In spite of the fact that Ovechkin and Crosby are two of the top players in the National Hockey League, there’s no love lost between them. And once you factor in that Washington has lost to Pittsburgh in seven of their eight playoff meetings, the Pens are a potential postseason opponent that the Caps cannot afford to overlook.
When it comes to the cities of New York City and Washington D.C., there has always been an intense sports rivalry. We’ve seen it in men’s college basketball with the St. John’s Red Storm and Georgetown Hoyas, in the National Football League with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, and also in Major League Baseball with the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. The ice doesn’t take a backseat to any of the other sports as the Capitals have been known to get it on with both the Rangers and Islanders.
After the Caps made their National Hockey League debut in 1974 as an expansion team, they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first eight seasons. Things would change for Washington in 1983 when they made their first of 14 consecutive playoff appearances. However the next five years would see the Capitals make the playoffs, but in five matchups with the Islanders, they lost four times.
The Isles and Caps have met in some memorable postseason affairs which is highlighted by their epic seven-game duel in the 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals. Game 7 of the series would go to a fourth overtime before Islanders center Pat LaFontaine score the game and series-winner. Overall the Caps and Islanders have met in the playoffs seven times with the most recent meeting coming last year in another seven-game battle: this one however would be won by Washington.
The current Islanders team has solid goal scorers in centers John Tavares and Brock Nelson. But unlike the Penguins, the Isles are not as strong between the pipes with their goalies Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. In a potential playoff series with the Islanders, the Caps would have a decided home-ice advantage as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn doesn’t have the same appeal for the fans of the Isles like the Nassau Coliseum did.
And then there’s the case of the Rangers. The Rangers and Capitals have met in the postseason six times with New York emerging victorious on four occasions including last spring. The Rangers might not have the star power that the Capitals have, but they do have one of the best goalies that the National Hockey League currently has in Henrik Lundqvist. And when Lundqvist is on, you have a better chance of navigating through gridlock traffic in the Big Apple than scoring on him.
But maybe the thought of the Capitals having to deal with some of their longtime rivals in the playoffs could be just what the doctor ordered for them. Ovechkin has accomplished all of the personal accolades that the National Hockey League has to offer which includes him being being a three-time league MVP, but he continues to hear the growing banter about him not being able to lead his team to a Stanley Cup Title. Trotz put Nashville Predators hockey on the map as he was their head coach in the team’s first 15 years of existence. Trotz got the Predators to the postseason seven times and only eight head coaches in NHL history have won more regular season games than his 652. However Trotz is still searching for the elusive Stanley Cup Title to put on his soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Fame resume.
The Nation’s Capitol is seeking its first title in one the four major sports leagues in the United States since 1991 when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. The Capitals have the potential to go all the way this spring, but it won’t be easy with some bona fide heavyweights potentially standing in their way.
There is nothing quite like rivalries in the world of sports as they ignite fan bases while bringing out the best in teams. The New York Islanders came into existence as a National Hockey League franchise in 1972 and in the process they infringed on the domain of the New York Rangers. Since their inception the Islanders have called the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York home as the play in the shadows of New York City. The Rangers call Madison Square Garden in New York City home and about 28 miles separates these two venues. It didn’t take the Islanders that long to put their stamp on this rivalry as they secured their first playoff series victory in franchise history by defeating the Rangers in 1975. From 1975-1984, the Islanders and the Rangers would meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times with the guys from Long Island getting the best of the Blueshirts on five occasions. The Islanders would ride this wave of momentum to four consecutive Stanley Cup Titles in the early 1980’s. Overall the Islanders and Rangers have met in the postseason eight times with the Isles winning five of those encounters. The last time that the Rangers and Islanders met in the postseason was 1994 in the first round of the playoffs. And it was the Rangers that would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
This season the Islanders and Rangers are two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Isles and Rangers are first and second in the Metropolitan Division respectively and they have engaged in some battles this season. The Islanders won the first three games against the Rangers this season by a combined score of 13-4. On January 27 when the Isles beat the Rangers 4-1 at the Nassau Coliseum, chants went up from the crowd of “you can’t beat us” and “Henrik, Henrik” to mock Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
These two rivals met last night once more at the Coliseum and it appeared to be more of the same as the Isles jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. It was almost 3-0 in favor of the Islanders, but the Rangers would quickly shift the momentum when defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored to cut the Isles lead to a point. This would be a seesaw affair until early in the third period when Islanders center Ryan Strome would score to give them a 5-3 advantage which brought on the “you can’t beat us” chants once again from the crowd at the Nassau Coliseum. But playing without their star goalie Lundqvist, the Rangers offense picked up backup goalie Cam Talbot as center Derek Stepan, right winger Martin St. Louis, and defenseman Kevin Klein each scored in the third period to give the Rangers the 6-5 lead. The Islander faithful may have quieted down, but for the Ranger fans in attendance there could now flex their muscles.
The Rangers would escape Uniondale with the 6-5 win and this game brought back memories of the days when these two teams consistently met in the playoffs and it is something that we could see this spring.
With this being the final season for the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum as they are set to move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this fall, there has been a sense of nostalgia for their Long Island fan base this season. Those Islander fans on Long Island will still be able to see their favorite hockey team: they will just have to travel a little bit further to do it. But with Islanders finally fielding a team this season that can actually contend for the first time in over 20 years, the fans on Long Island have come out to support them. The past two decades have seen the Ranger fans dominate the seats at the Nassau Coliseum when these two teams meet, but it hasn’t been the case this year with Islander fans strongly showing their support and even finding their way to the Garden in Manhattan as well. And with the intensity of this rivalry it would only be fitting to see these two teams meet one more time in the NHL Playoffs before the Isles move from Nassau County to Kings County.
Both the Islanders and Rangers have good teams this season. The Rangers are looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive season while the Islanders are trying to push away two decades of frustration. The games this season have allowed fans on both sides of the rivalry to reminisce of the days when goalie Billy Smith was in the net for the Isles trying to stop the charge of Ron Duguay and Phil Esposito of the Rangers. Even to the current teams there is no love lost between the Rangers and Islanders which spills over to their fans as well which also makes for must-see TV. The NHL like any other sports league is all about the money and what better way to captivate the New York media market than to have the Rangers and Islanders meet this spring in the postseason. There still needs to be a ton of work done by both sides before it could be done, but the thought alone gets the blood flowing.
The top sports story of 2014 in the New York metropolitan area was arguably the New York Rangers winning the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League for the first time since 1994. The New York Yankees and Mets both failed to qualify for the Major League Baseball Playoffs while the New York Giants and Jets will both be watching the National Football League Playoffs from home next month. The New York Knicks have one of the worst records in the National Basketball Association while the Brooklyn Nets also have a losing record. After a slow start to the National Hockey League season, the Rangers have improved in the past few weeks while across the Hudson River, the New Jersey Devils are having tough sledding. But in the shadows of New York City in Uniondale, New York, there is a team that has people talking.
The New York Islanders are in their 42nd year of existence and they have seen their fair share of ups and downs. From 1980-1983, the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships. But since 1995, the Isles have only made the postseason five times. The Islanders have become a forgotten team out in Nassau County as they’ve taken a backseat to the Rangers. And with Islanders owner Charles Wang set to sell the team as they are going to bid farewell to the Nassau Coliseum this spring in favor of the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, the Islanders are attempting to go out with a bang.
This season under the guidance of head coach Jack Capuano, the Islanders are in second place in the Metropolitan Division as they are only three points behind the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles also find themselves tied for the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Islanders general manager Garth Snow has avoided making the same mistake that has held this team back for nearly a quarter-century as he has hasn’t given up on the youngsters.
The Islanders have the 11th youngest team in the NHL this season as the majority of their core has been developed through their system. In 2009, the Islanders had the first overall pick of the National Hockey League Draft. The Islanders would draft a young 18-year old center from Canada by the name of John Tavares. Tavares immediately played for the Islanders and he has led the club in points in three of the last four seasons and he is also the current team captain. The Islanders have a pair of alternate captains in center Frans Nielsen and right winger Kyle Okposo. Okposo is currently leading the Islanders in points (29) and assists (21). Center Brock Nelson was the Islanders first round selection in 2010 and this season he is currently leading the team in goals with 14. Goalie Jaroslov Halak was acquired from the Washington Capitals last May and this season his 2.24 goals allowed average is ninth in the NHL. This month Halak has only allowed more than two goals in a game twice as the successful teams in the NHL have a dominant player between the pipes.
The Islanders commenced this season by winning their first four games including a 6-3 win over the rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden which allowed them to set the tone. After losing the first two games of a five-game, West Coast road trip that began in late October, the Isles won their last three of thee trip that included victories over the Anaheim Ducks and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. For the month of November, the Islanders would only lose three games and over that stretch they were also able to record a pair of victory over the Penguins on consecutive nights. And after suffering a three-game losing streak earlier this month, the Islanders got right back on the saddle by winning their next four.
The Islanders have shown that they can hang with the best teams in the NHL and it is up to Snow and Capuano to not mess up the team’s chemistry. In year’s past the Islanders front office would make a roster move that would see the team malfunction. But this current Islanders team has tremendous cohesion and they are also receiving tremendous support from their fans in Nassau County. The Isles home attendance at the Nassau Coliseum is up from last season which is dually attributed to their improved play and a nostalgic fan base that is not ready to see them depart for Brooklyn. But when the Isles rose to prominence in the late 1970’s, it was mainly homegrown talent that featured players such as center Bryan Trottier and right winger Mike Bossy that would help to form a dynasty in Uniondale. Now the law firm of Taveres, Nielsen, Okposo, and Nelson have the people believing in the Islanders during their swan song on Long Island as those that are old enough to remember are reminiscing of the glory days at the Nassau Coliseum.
Source: Quanthockey.com, Hockeyattendance.com, Hockey-reference.com