By Lenn Robbins
The mystery and wonder of a group of players and coaches coalescing into that hallowed entity known as a team of destiny is this: We aren’t aware of it while it’s happening. We’re too caught up in the moment and mania.
The 1969 Mets came from so far off the radar that by the time Seaver and Koosman were done throwing mesmerizing strikes and Agee and Swoboda were finished making magical catches the Amazins were champs and we were breathless.
We just might be in midst of dateline destiny, courtesy of the Islanders.
The Islanders, who lost their final seven games and 11 of their last 13 before the coronavirus halted the regular season, are one win away from playing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993 when Jurassic Park ruled the box office and the Ford Taurus was the country’s best-selling sedan.
The Islanders, nomads of the NHL who have been bounced from Uniondale, to Brooklyn, to both, while a new arena is built, might find a home in history.
The Islanders, who entered the 16-team playoff tournament as the No.6 seed in the East have a chance to become the first team to qualify for the Frozen Final Four with one more win over the top-seeded Flyers. Their first opportunity to do so comes Tuesday night (7 p.m.; NBCSN) in Toronto.
If the last 24 hours didn’t make you pause and wonder if these Islanders are indeed on some magic skater’s ride, perhaps nothing will. The Islanders turned in their worst performance of the postseason and still won Sunday night’s Game 4, 3-2.
They won because their goalie on this night, Thomas Greiss, who hasn’t started a playoff game since 2016, made 36 saves, many of the jaw-dropping variety, and dismissed his effort with this summation:
“Just stop the puck. It’s not rocket science out there.”
No, there’s been little science in this run, which already includes and ousting of the third-seeded Capitals in four games, other than the Islanders disciplined, defensive-leaning style. That formula abandoned them in Game 4 against a hard-charging Philadelphia team.
The Islanders were outshot 17-3 in the second period and still came out of it in a 1-1 tie because Greiss wasn’t thinking about rocket science or brain surgery, just stopping a six-ounce sphere of rubber.
“In my opinion, that was the worst game that we’ve played to this point in the playoffs,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “You talk about the ultimate goalie partner for anybody, Thomas Greiss is it. Whatever you want, he’s all-in.”
Greiss made his first start since March 7th because Game 4 was the second of a back-to-back. Philadelphia likewise started Brian Elliott, who made 30 saves and also was exceptional. The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, outhit, 39-35, and committed 12 giveaways, certainly not a blueprint they went to replicate.
But in addition to two goalies who are playing great (Semyon Varlamov leads all goalies with a 1.69 goals against), some rising stars, solid veterans, responsible role players and the sure, steady Stanley Cup championship winning hand of Trotz, the Islanders are knocking on destiny’s door.
We should let them in, pull up a chair and watch whatever these next few weeks bring. We just might talk about it forever.