Today, I’m ready to make my boldest prediction yet. Gird your loins, everyone.
Before the COVID break, I would have been prepared to tell you that the Capitals would at the very least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m very glad I didn’t because that would have been really embarrassing. (Side note—thank God GMBM sent Rierden to the curb; just waiting for some other changes in the coaching lineup now). The confidence I had in the February Caps is very similar to the confidence I now have in the New York Islanders. I know, it’s really weird that I’m kind of rooting for the Isles after they kicked the crap out of Washington in the first round; just go with it.
The Islanders Over the Flyers
Don’t get me wrong, Philadelphia looks strong. I’m sure a lot of you heard the conversation with a certain Bostonian center on the Flyers on a certain hockey podcast this week. It was clear to me from that interview that Philly is clicking with each other in a way that makes them a force to be reckoned with.
In the same vein, however, the Islanders have been clicking just as well. They have developed this hive-mind-like style of play that started in the regular season and has only intensified in their time in Toronto. Under Barry Trotz, they’ve learned how to play a chess match on skates, how to choke the life out of their opponents, and how to mentally break other teams. We watched them break the Leafs (admittedly not the most difficult things to do) and then the Capitals (much more difficult).
There’s no doubt the Flyers will put up a much stronger fight than either of the previous. The key factor in this matchup is that Philly has not faced any adversity since entering the Bubble. New York was ranked 6th in the Metro, while Washington and Philly sat at 1st and 2nd. They had to fight tooth and nail against Toronto, ranked 3rd in the Atlantic, just to get a shot at the first round of playoffs. What’s more, is that they didn’t get any kind of mental or physical break before taking on the 3rd strong team in the Eastern Conference. They haven’t shown a single crack in their armor thus far, nor can I imagine one developing.
Ready for Anyone
Seeing how they’ve managed to weather so far, I feel confident in saying that the Isles could take on any of the remaining teams with reasonable success. This team is not in the business of playing anyone else’s style of hockey. They make their opponents play to the Islanders’ strengths. If they can make the Capitals yield to them, it’s fairly safe to say that they can make just about any other team do the same.
There could be a few challenges, I’ll concede. If they make it to the Finals, there are 2 teams I could picture giving them troubles—Vegas and Dallas.
Vegas is a lot more rough-and-tumble than the teams they’ve faced so far. The Bruins, in my opinion, are the closest match to Vegas in the East in that physical aspect, but with Ryan Reaves running around, Vegas is a different monster. The Islanders have a Martin in the bottom 6, but not many others known to give out big hits. Getting the Knights to yield to a more mental type of game could prove to be difficult, but I don’t think they would immediately get rolled over.
Dallas is similar in that there are guys capable of flattening the biggest of players. They’re different in that they have many more players putting up points throughout their lineup. The Islanders have played in such a way that chokes out chances for secondary scoring. So I think they may find that a little harder to do with a lineup that can produce points just about anywhere.
I’m not a betting person. Nor would I tell you to bet your house on the New York Islanders winning the Cup. But, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were to pull off an Eastern Conference title and move on to the Cup Final. They’re a strong mental and physical team who has somehow managed to stay healthy in the first 2 rounds, something not many other teams can boast, and they have team chemistry up the wazoo. With each player pulling their weight, whether in points or defense, this team is a machine capable of just about anything.
(Full apologies to the Islanders if my writing this fully jinxes them.)
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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