By Steve Silverman
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More often than not, all the talk of the New York bias when it comes to media coverage is true — when it comes to the Yankees, Giants and Jets.
The Rangers and Knicks get their share as well, but it’s doubtful that any of the other teams get favorable publicity merely because of the New York City affiliation.
And certainly not the Mets, who are often ridiculed on “Family Guy.”
There’s one New York team that is regularly ignored by the media and most sports fans. But that team is now deserving of attention.
That team is the New York Islanders.
They are the third hockey team in the metropolitan area even though they put together one of the most glorious dynasties in the history of the sport.
The New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 through 1983, and they may have been the second-best team ever to skate in the NHL.
It’s hard to say that any team was better than the 1976-79 Montreal Canadiens dynasty that preceded them, but the Islanders of Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith don’t have to take a back seat to any other Stanley Cup winner. Take that, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
The 2013 New York Islanders are not a dynasty. But they are a playoff team. That’s a huge achievement for a team that appeared to be in over their heads at the start of the season.
A look at the Atlantic Division at the start of the season seemed nightmarish for Jack Capuano’s team. The neighboring Rangers were the odds-on favorite to finish first in the regular season and represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins had Sidney Crosby back and looked like an offensive machine.
The New Jersey Devils may have lost Zach Parise, but they were Stanley Cup finalists a year ago and still had Martin Brodeur in the net. The Philadelphia Flyers had some defensive issues, but they could fill up the net thanks to Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere.
The Islanders had John Tavares and some young talent, but they were clearly in over their heads. A playoff appearance seemed out of the question. It was going to be another year of hard lessons for the Islanders.
But a funny thing happened to this team in mid-February. After starting the season with a 6-9-1 record, the Islanders started to come together. That was also overpriced Rick DiPietro’s last game in an Islanders uniform.
After the Islanders sent DiPietro to the minor leagues a few days later, Evgeni Nabokov simply took over. He does not get the recognition that the top goaltenders in the league get, but he has been sensational in the net this year.
Nabokov has good numbers this season. He is 23-11-6 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .909 save percentage. However, it’s Nabokov’s ability to make the big save at key moments that makes him special . He will do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net when the score is tied or the Islanders have a one-goal lead in the third period.
Nabokov has been excellent, but the Islanders are all about Tavares.
He is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate because he takes advantage of every opportunity he can. Tavares has 27 goals and 19 assists. He is smart and slick, but he’s also tough enough to go in the dirty areas, take the hit and then make the shot or pass that leads to a goal.
Teammates see how hard Tavares is working and they have joined the party. Matt Moulson has scored 15 goals and Brad Boyes — who was rescued off the scrapheap — has scored 10 times. Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey are also double-digit goal scorers.
With winnable games against Philadelphia and Buffalo left on the schedule, the Islanders could rise to the No. 5 spot in the playoffs. If they get to that position, they will almost certainly be playing the Boston Bruins or Montreal Canadiens.
Both of those teams were dominant for the first two-plus months of the regular season but are limping into the playoffs. The Islanders are young and hungry and just may be ready to pull off an upset or two.
No, this team will not bring back the echoes of the great Islanders dynasty of 30-plus years ago. They are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. But this team is young, hungry and improving.
They have become the team that nobody wants to play.
With good reason.
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