Unless you win the Stanley Cup, the last game of the playoffs ends in a loss.
So for Islanders captain John Tavares, Sunday’s disappointment of not hoisting the Cup will be shared by 28 other captains, though his team has a leg up on 22 other teams just by making it to the second round. It’ll take time for Tavares to appreciate it, but this was a good season for his team. Here are five takeaways from the Islanders’ 2015-16 season.
1. ISLES ADVANCE TO SECOND ROUND:
After the Islanders eliminated the Florida Panthers in six games, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen looked at each other in the locker room and came to a realization.
There are only eight teams left… and we’re one of them.
That’s a feeling no Islanders team had known for 23 years, so just getting back to the second round was a worthy accomplishment for the organization. It wasn’t the ultimate goal, but for the team and fans alike, it was both a long-awaited exorcism and a learning experience for what lies ahead. And anyone who says advancing doesn’t mean anything wasn’t at Barclays Center when Tavares scored that OT winner.
2. ISLANDERS SWEEP THE RANGERS:
This season marked the first time ever the Islanders swept the New York Rangers, with the Isles taking all four games against their crosstown rivals. The move to Brooklyn put the Islanders closer to their rivals, proximity further intensifying the rivalry, but in the first Battle of the Boroughs, the Islanders reigned supreme.
They took both games at Barclays Center, leaving the Rangers winless in Brooklyn. The Islanders’ 2-1 win on December 2 was also a coming-out party for the new arena, being one of the loudest – if not the loudest – game of the regular season.
3. GREISS SHINES AS A STARTER:
Thomas Greiss was the Islanders’ breakout star of the 2015-16 season. Initially brought in as a backup, Greiss’ strong play blurred the lines between backup and starter. He was excellent for the Islanders during the season, stepping up in the wake of several injuries to Jaroslav Halak, including a season-ending injury in March. The increased workload didn’t faze Greiss, who set career-highs in wins (23) and games played (41) this season, finishing third in the NHL with a .925 save percentage.
He further endeared himself to Islanders fans by towing stuck motorists in a January snow storm and eating chicken parm – a New York favorite – before games. Enjoy the parm Thomas, you’ve earned it.
4. JOHN TAVARES CONTINUES TO BE ONE OF THE LEAGUE’S BEST:
John Tavares continued his evolution as an elite player in the NHL this season. While his point totals dipped, the Islanders’ captain showcased his heart and leadership this season, the type of hard-working, blue-collar grit that embodies the ethos of the fan base he represents. Tavares’ intense focus and direction helped the Islanders in their transition off the ice, and his input on things like morning routines helped the Islanders to their most points at home in over a decade. On the ice, Tavares left it out there on every shift, setting the tone with his relentless hustle, putting the Islanders on his back and leading the team in goals (33 in the regular season, 6 in the playoffs), points (70, 11) and tied for first in game-winning goals (5) with Cal Clutterbuck. The 25-year-old showed some bite too, mixing it up in scrums, the type of tenacity exhibited by past Islanders legends like Bryan Trottier. For his efforts, Tavares was nominated for the Mark Messier Leadership Award which will be given out later this summer.
5. ISLES MAKE NEW HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE:
Transit was a big part of the Islanders’ transition to Barclays Center, but riding the rails didn’t stop the Islanders and their fans from establishing home-ice advantage in Brooklyn. The team went 25-11-5, their most points at home (55) since the 2003-04 season.
The success at home was also due to the fans, who recreated the energy from Nassau Coliseum on Atlantic Avenue. Islanders fans proved that they’ll be loud and passionate as long as they are in the stands and the Islanders are on the ice.
The new home now has some new memories to go with it, too.