Tonight was supposed to be start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the National Hockey League.
16 teams all beginning their journey to be the last one standing for hockey’s most coveted prize.
Instead, there won’t be any games, big moments, crazy atmospheres, or even the wonderful sounds of Doc Emrick, John Forslund, Brendan Burke, etc. on our televisions. Just silence.
The cornovirus shutdown of hockey, and all sports for that matter since March 12th, has us all focused on more important things right now. Still, pondering what would have happen the final few weeks of the season leading up to this evening also comes to mind. In regards to the New York Islanders, lets say they did end up making the postseason for what would have been a second consecutive season.
Who could have been their possible opponent?
Even if the season had ended this past weekend as planned, the Islanders and the reigning conference champion-Bruins probably would have squared off. The Isles were in and around that final wild card spot before the season was postponed, while the B’s were well on their way to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
1-1-1 was the Islanders’ record against Boston in the regular season, with the last tilt going to the Bruins who embarrassed them 4-0 on Butch Goring Day on February 29th.
Over the past few years, it’s been a struggle for the Isles to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins even when 100% healthy. The two clubs play a similar style but Boston does it with a more smash-mouth style. Offensively, the Bruins would have had a monster advantage because of their first line consisting of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The same can be said on defense, goaltending, and almost every other facet.
Where the Islanders might have had a slight advantage is coaching. Barry Trotz has tons more playoff experience than Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy, and he’s not far removed from winning a Stanley Cup a few years ago.
Tampa Bay Lightning
This would have been a rematch from the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2016 where the Bolts defeated the Islanders in five games.
The Isles went 2-1-0 against the Lightning this season, and all three games were highly contested despite the final score. Both clubs had a tale of two seasons this year, which might have added another dynamic.
Tampa looked like a shell of themselves early on, still feeling the effects of being shockingly swept by Columbus in the first round last spring. But before the hiatus came they had turned back to their dominant ways, climbing all the way back up in the Atlantic Division. The Islanders did the reverse, starting off red-hot and then fading after the first few months of the season.
These two teams would have definitely made for an interesting series.
Complete opposites of each other, Trotz’s team is offensively deficient and defensively sound; the Lightning sport a high-powered attack and some question marks on their blueline behind Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh.
The Lightning would have also provided similar problems for the Islanders like the Bruins would have. We’re looking at you Nikita Kucherov.
We didn’t get it last spring because the Caps lost in seven games to Carolina, but this series would be all about the st0rylines. Mainly, Trotz going up against his old squad for whom he won a Stanley Cup with and battling his successor, Todd Reirden.
Beyond that dynamic, it would be rematch of the physical seven-game battle the teams had in the 2015 postseason.
The division rivals split the four games this past season, and interestingly enough, the road squad was victorious in each tilt. So, home-ice advantage seems like it wouldn’t matter in this series.
Future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin and the Cap’s very potent offense would pose a unique challenge. Defense, the two teams are pretty even with the exception of John Carlson, who was the front-runner for the Norris Trophy leading up to the league-wide stoppage.
The goaltending matchup is intriguing.
The Islanders have had Braden Holtby’s number dating back to last season. Semyon Varlamov, on the other hand, would have been appearing in his first playoff series in six years.
The Islanders and Pens meeting the following year after the Isles swept their first round series would have made for great television.
Everyone thought after last spring the Penguins reign as one of the NHL’s best had come to a conclusion because of the sweep. But this year they were right back to their old ways, and they did it without their future Hall of Famer in Sidney Crosby for a period of the season.
Oddly enough, the Islanders were supposed play the Penguins one more time this year three days after the season was suspended. The two teams met three times in the lead up to that postponed game earlier in the season where every game needed overtime.
This series is split right down the middle past Crosby and Pittsburgh’s other superstar forward, Evgeni Malkin. Offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, and coaching; both clubs have their strengths and flaws.
The Coliseum atmosphere might have provided a significant advantage as seen from the previous postseason.
The Flyers being the Islanders’ first round opponent would have marked the first time in 32 years since the teams last met in the postseason. Philadelphia won that series in seven games.
As for this year, the Isles had won three of the four games scheduled with the Flyers. Every game was a high scoring affair with the teams averaging seven or more combined.
The playoffs being more low scoring and defensive style games might have favored the Islanders. Although, the way the Flyers were rolling post All-Star break, it might not have mattered.
Seeing Mathew Barzal go toe-to-toe with Sean Couterier would have been a treat.
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