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Taub: The Images That Defined the Isles Remarkable Season

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With the official end of the 2018-19 National Hockey League season occurring tonight, it’s always a treat to look back on the pictures that symbolized what was another incredible year for the sport.

In the case of the New York Islanders, their unprecedented successful campaign led to a few of the memorable moments that had the entire league buzzing. As a stand-alone organization though, the Isles provided some iconic images, many some won’t forget for quite some time.

Trying to narrow down the pictures that truly symbolized what a fun ride it was to be a part of the Islander organization wasn’t an easy task — there might be too many to count. But the ones which were chosen by our Rob Taub, he believes were picture-perfect in describing why that moment was significant.

We’ll start off with the beginning of a new era, one that hopefully will be here for a long time.

On the day of the season opener, the Islanders had yet to name a captain for the 2018-19 season. Just as the club was set to take the ice for their morning skate, head coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello informed the team that Anders Lee was being named the 15th captain in franchise history. It was a great moment for Lee, who had revitalized his career in the last two seasons — scoring 74 goals, 40 in 2017-18 — after he had suffered setbacks because of injuries and inconsistency. The moment was also a big one for an organization and its fan base that was still trying to get the bad taste out of their mouths after they saw former captain and face of the franchise, John Tavares, bolt to Toronto four months prior. The Isles would win 2-1 in OT over the Carolina Hurricanes that night for their first win of the year.

To some, it was only a poke check, but in the long run, it meant something much bigger.

Thomas Greiss had gone through the wringer for the entire 2017-18 season. He had his worst year as a pro and came into this past year full of question marks. But in this early November showdown with the Penguins, this one save on who else — Sidney Crosby — symbolized that Greiss had not just fully regained his confidence but that he and this team were not to be taken lightly. Greiss’ heroics in this game was just the beginning of what was an exceptional season for him individually and as a duo with Robin Lehner, leading to a share of the William Jennings Memorial Trophy — the award given to the NHL team who gives up the least amount of goals in a full season.  Greiss stopped this attempt and every other one in the shootout for a 4-3 Isles win and a share of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Finally back home where they belong.

Everyone who ever associated with the Islanders knew what this night meant. This time though, it was different. The anticipation leading up to the Islanders return to the Coliseum had reached far past what anyone could have imagined. When the team took to the ice, following fans tailgating from the wee hours of the morning leading to an even more raucous atmosphere, everything felt right again in the world of an Isles fan. The Islanders were home again and the place so many had come to recognize as a second home, hadn’t changed a bit. It was loud, festive, and memorable. The Isles followed suit to with a rousing 3-2 come from behind victory in which the place almost crumbled after Casey Cizikas got the game-winner late in the third.

As perfect a night as you could ask for.

One thing people didn’t know about the Islanders as they headed into Toronto for their first matchup with former teammate John Tavares: they were taking his leaving personal. That’s what Trotz wanted them to feel and that’s the effort he received from his group. From start to finish that evening, and by Mathew Barzal’s reaction above, it was an unforgettable night for a number of reasons. The entire other 19 skaters played their most complete game of the year. Barzal himself, he would record a hat trick. A 4-0 drubbing of the Maple Leafs in front of all of Canada nonetheless made for extra icing on top of the cake.

The arrival of the future, one that looks extremely bright.

It’s funny that even after Devon Toews had come up to Isles two months prior to the picture above, he had yet to have that welcome to the NHL moment. But it was Toews goal — his first in the NHL, first in an Islander uniform and an OT-winner to top it all off — in early January against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks that really gave Isles fans another reason to be very excited for what’s to come. The Coliseum erupted when Toews buried the winner past Hawks goalie Collin Delia and the fans had come to embrace the player everyone had heard about and could be the team’s next elite defensemen. Toews would play a monster role the rest of the season and in the postseason, asserting himself as a top-four d-man what should be for the next five to ten years.

They’re for real and Barry knows it.

They had already defied the odds all year, but there was another game circled on the calendar that would make people finally realize the Isles were no fluke. And wouldn’t you know it, that game would take place in Washington and would be head coach Barry Trotz’ return to a building against a Capitals team he spent four seasons coaching and helped lead to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Even with all the dramatics, the Islanders went in with a business-like approach and came away victorious 2-0. The victory also gave the Isles sole possession of first place in the Metro and a taste of revenge from how Trotz ended up leaving after the Cup win.

The Nassau Coliseum, or the Roman Coliseum?

When you walked into Nassau Coliseum on February 28th, you didn’t know what to expect. Then a certain #91 stepped on the ice in a white Toronto sweater and all the pent up emotion of eight months was let out and made for what turned out to be a spectacle. If you weren’t a part of the atmosphere that night — the game itself was a whole other story with the Islanders stomping Tavares and the Leafs 6-1 — it was one for the ages. But even an image like the one here represents what an entire fan base, ok maybe more like 90%, was waiting for when they had a chance to let the player they had come to cherish for over a decade know what they thought of him now. There are so many words to describe what that evening was for so many in the organization, too many exactly.

Playoffs Baby, Playoffs. Fucking Right!

Never expected to be there, the night the Islanders made the playoffs was a culmination of sorts. A culmination of the man above, goalie Robin Lehner, and his story and how far he had come in such a short amount of time. A culmination of a team that was left in ruins before the season began that believed in themselves and stuck it to all the experts and haters. A culmination of a coach that came in and put the pride and accountability back in a franchise that had longed for it since the days of the 80s dynasty teams. And last but not least, a culmination of a team and a fan base that rallied together as one after adversity stared them dead in the face months earlier. 

How Sweep It Is.

Everything that the Islanders had accomplished this year meant even more in how they disposed of the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. Why? Because once again, they were given no shot to win.  It’s that mentality that fueled the team all season long and was the same as they entered the playoffs. The Isles stunned everyone around the league and did it in convincing fashion. What the image above shows — this was after they had completed the sweep with a 3-1 win — is a group of players that played for one another and the sweater on the front instead of the name on the back. 

Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_

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