Josh Bailey doesn’t like rats. Obviously.
But Bailey also doesn't like the fake plastic ones Florida Panthers fans throw on the ice during playoff games. Why?
“Well if we see rats, it probably means we’re losing,” Bailey said.
Cal Clutterbuck is another Islander that doesn’t want to see rats rain down at the BB&T Center, an homage to the 1996 playoffs, where Panthers fans tossed toy rats onto the ice after big goals. But the Islanders don’t need an exterminator to take care of their potential pest problem, they just need to play good road hockey.
To beat the Panthers, the Islanders are going to have to win at least one game in Sunrise, Fla. and they are preparing for a very intense BB&T Center. Home ice is usually an advantage for the home team, but the Islanders say they have to harness the energy in the building, be it positive or negative.
“I’m sure they are going to get energy from it, every team does,” Kyle Okposo said. “The away team does too. You try to feed off that energy from the crowd. They aren’t cheering for you, but there’s a lot of energy in the building. We’re going to have to come out and play our game.”
Some players, like Clutterbuck, enjoy playing the villain. They think of boos on the road as de facto cheers. If the fans in Florida don’t like them, then they’re doing something right. If they aren’t making any sound, we’ll that’s close to perfection.
“With [being on the road] comes the ability to grab a hold of the game as a road team and quiet a place down,” Clutterbuck said.
Still, he doesn’t expect the Islanders to be completely alone down in the Sunshine State.
“We’re expecting a couple of spots of Islanders fans in there,” Clutterbuck said. “A lot of Islanders faithful have migrated down there and there should be a good contingent of Isles fans. There always have been when we’ve played in Florida.”
The Islanders hope they’ll be throwing up Yes! Yes! Yes! Anything but rats.
THE BEST TIME OF YEAR
John Tavares said it’s easy to get caught up in the moment during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but he and the Islanders agree that it’s the most fun time of the year in hockey.
For competitors like Tavares, the intensity of the games is part of the appeal. The highs are higher and the lows are gut-wrenching, but there’s something thrilling about putting everything on the line. How sweet can success really be without the struggle?
“That’s part of it,” Tavares said. “The journey, the battle, sometimes the struggle is the most rewarding when you overcome that.”
The glory, the rivalries and the traditions born in the playoffs are greater than anything else in hockey. Players won’t even touch the President’s Trophy – given out to the best regular season team – to even remotely jinx the possibility of a Cup. Players play with broken bones, open wounds and injuries that deserve worker’s comp. Rivalries permeate through entire cities, not just rinks. The fans become more intense and the traditions, from beards – which the Islanders dynasty teams started – to throwing octopi – a Red Wings tradition – make the entire spectacle, spectacular.
Tavares summed it up.
“This is the best time of year.”