Everyone knows that the Buffalo Sabres are 1st seed. Everyone knows that the Buffalo Sabres won the Presidents Trophy. Everyone knows that every Buffalo fan says "This is our year!". I am pretty sure the upstart New York Islanders will have something to say about that.
Coming in 8th seed with a thrilling shootout win over the New Jersey Devils, the Isles rode 3rd string goaltender Wade Dubielewicz like a great war-horse into 4 straight victories. The team knows the battle has just began and are not overestimating themselves.
Who is this team that shocked the entire city of Toronto? Lets take a quick look:
- Yashin had a tough year. He stormed into the season hellbent on dispelling the label he, to be honest, earned as a slumping player. At the height of his return to star status, he took a painful knee injury versus Washington. An early comeback attempt just ended up hurting him more, forcing him back into injured reserve for a very long time. Recently returned, Yashin has shown flashes of his early season form and will need to be firing on all cylinders for this series.
- Fiesty. Sparkplug. Energy. These are just three words used to describe the Islanders dimunative forward. Team leader in goals and points, the speedy forward knows only one speed - full. A career 3rd-4th liner until he hit his stride with the Islanders, Blake has been on fire all season. Blake turned in career marks this season and will need that to carry over for the Islanders to be sucessful.
- Enigmatic. Streaky. Disappointing. Unfortunately, these are three words that have followed number 81 most of his career. Satan had an up-and-down year where he showed exactly why the Islanders took a chance on him and he showed exactly why the Sabres got rid of him. When Satan is on his game, there are few goaltenders that would say he is not a threat. Satan is going to need to be 100% in the series for the Islanders to advance.
- Hunter has adapted to coach Ted Nolans system and adapted well. A 20 goal season, marked with him landing 5th in the NHL in hits (246), Hunter has shown what Islanders fans knew all along. Hunter had shown a soft touch around the net in the past, but he finally used his size to his advantage this season. Hunter won the Bobby Nystrom Award this season, given to the Islander that best exemplifies leadership, hustle, and determination. Hunter is going to need to show those 3 traits for the Islanders to be sucessful.
- Not exactly the biggest blueliner in the business, Bergeron makes it up in speed and agility. Oh . . . and his cannon-like shot. Bergeron led all Islander defensemen in goals and points. Aquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, Bergeron was exactly what the Isles defense was lacking, a powerplay leader.
- The Islanders hard hitting blueliner, Witt led the team in penalty minutes with 131 and was 5th in the NHL in blocked shots with 207. Witt was a horse on the blueline this season and played amazingly against the top lines of almost every team the Islanders faced. Witt is going to have to use that big body and excellent defensive play against the Sabres and try to keep himself out of the box for the Islanders to stay alive.
- Dipietro was the Islanders leader on the ice this season, keeping them in games they had no right having a chance to win. With a career high in shutouts (5) and a career high in wins (32), Dipietro was key to the Islanders sucess. Due to a collision with Montreal Canadiens Steve Begin, Dipietro was unable to finish the season and is highly questionable for the first round.
- The Islanders knight in shining armor. When Dipietro went down and backup Mike Dunham struggled, Dubielewicz went between the pipes and led the Islanders to the big dance. Dubie, as his teammates and fans call him, showed tremendous poise and skill, leading the Islanders to 4 straight victories, clinching them a playoff birth. With little NHL experience, Dubie has zero NHL playoff time. Don't expect that to phase him, he plays each game like his career depends on it. He is out to show he has what it takes and what better place to do that than in the playoffs.
There is a quick look at the New York Islanders that, minus Dipietro, will be seen in game 1. The Islanders may be 8th, but the Sabres need to pay attention to them and not on the next round. These boys from Long Island have the ability to take them by suprise.