Isles Coming Together During Playoff Stretch|
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, February 25, 2007
With the race to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference becoming tighter every day, the New York Islanders have found a way to stay in the mix, despite injuries and sub-par special teams and have started to form an identity founded on grit, physicality and perseverance.
If their recent play is any indication, this team has serious aspirations for playoff action and is ready to wash away the remnants of an up and down 2006 season that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
"You look at the standings and every game we play is important," Islanders forward Randy Robitaille told the Associated Press after the Islanders stunned the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 3-2 come from behind victory on February 22. "We're not looking during the game, but I can guarantee you that afterward, the guys are checking other scores to see how the race is shaping up."
Helping the Isles stay in the race is newly acquired defenseman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, whose 103.5 MPH slap shot has already proven to be an asset to the teamís lackluster powerplay. The 25-year-old Quebec-native already has two assists in three games with the team and seems to be just what the doctor ordered for an Islanders powerplay that was on life support before his arrival.
Echoing those sentiments, Islanders assistant captain Mike Sillinger believes that a solid power play starts with a defenseman with a solid shot from the point, making Bergeron a perfect fit on his new team after spending his entire professional career with Edmonton.
ďI thought our powerplay did well at the start of the year. We've had spurts where it's done well. Special teams are important in this league,Ē said Sillinger on the teamís official website. ďAnytime you see a successful power play, I guarantee it's not from passing the puck around the perimeter. It all comes down to establishing a point shot, getting the puck on goal, crashing the net and getting rebounds. Once you do that, then you can pass the puck around.Ē
Aside from the resurgent power play, the Islanders have been getting clutch performances from Sillinger, Trent Hunter and Rick DiPietro on a nightly basis since the All-Star break, fueling come from behind victories against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Islanders have one of the best records in the NHL when they take a lead into the third period, the team has shown lately a never say die attitude that was definitely missing on the team in years past.
"Ever since the All-Star break, we've been playing with a lot of confidence," DiPietro told the Associated Press. "We don't want to be in the position where we have to come back, but we're not afraid of it if it happens."
Now with the trading deadline a few days away, Barry Melrose reported on WFAN on Friday that the Isles are currently the front-runner for one of the hottest commodities available during the deadline, former New Jersey Devil Bill Guerin. Considering the fact that in years past the Islanders have failed to make a deal at the deadline for a player the likes of Guerin, choosing instead to acquire role players like Janne Ninimaa, Darren Van Impe and Randy Robitaille to try and bolster their team and itís obvious that the Islanders front office is making a serious attempt to bring playoff action to the fans on Long Island.
Not bad for a team that was expected to finish in the cellar of the Eastern Conference by most major media outlets before the season began.