The last time that the New York Islanders clinched the playoffs on THE last day of the season, it didn't come without a price. Going back to March 31, 1990; the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins were all vying for the fourth and final playoff position in the Patrick Division. The Islanders were playing the Flyers and the Penguins were playing the Buffalo Sabres. The Philadelphia Flyers had the easiest way in. If they beat or tied the Islanders, coupled with a Penguins loss or tie, the Flyers would be in. The Penguins had the second easiest way in. If the Islanders beat the Flyers, all the Penguins would have to do is beat or tie the Sabres. The Islanders, absolutely no two ways about it, had to win their game, or be sunk for until October 4, 1990 (The following season).
The Islanders beat the Flyers 6-2. This result ousted the Flyers from Stanley Cup Playoff competition. Now, the Islanders finished their game before the Penguins finished their own. It was 2-2 and headed for overtime. This game took place before DirecTV or any kind of NHL center ice package was available. So if you were not in the market, you were not able to monitor the game the way you can now. Al Arbour, coach of the New York Islanders at the time, requested that no out of town scores be posted in the Nassau Coliseum until after the Islanders' game was over. We got updates at home, and of course, Mario Lemieux tied the game at 2. That score held true until the end of regulation.
After the Islanders' game, we all waited, and we were able to view the Pittsburgh game on SportsChannel. Those who were actually at the Coliseum were able to watch the game on the scoreboard. Knowing that the Penguins only needed a tie, it was extremely tense. Then not too deep into overtime, Uwe Krupp took a stoppable, if not harmless shot from the left point position, and it went into the upper right hand corner of the Penguins goal, beating Tom Barrasso and sinking the Penguins. The Flyers were eliminated, now the Penguins were eliminated, and the Islanders were on their way to face the cross-town rival New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. It was only a five game series, but it was extremely entertaining, and much closer than the score of the series indicates.
Here we are, 17 years later, and the Islanders are faced with a somewhat similar, albeit, not completely identical situation. The Islanders have fought hard this entire season, and have been hot and cold in ways similar to the 1989-90 season. The Islanders have business to take care of tomorrow (Saturday April 7, 2007). Somewhat ironically, again, it's against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have no playoff interest this year, but undoubtedly have "spoiler" interest. The Islanders have to beat them to live another day. If the Islanders do win tomorrow afternoon in Philadelphia, again, it's time to watch the scoreboard. This time, the amount of time between the conclusion of the Islander game and their other vested interest game will be approximately 6 hours. This time, they will look north to Canada as the Habs play the Leafs in Toronto. With an Islanders' victory on Saturday afternoon, all New York Islanders, and their fans will become Toronto Maple Leafs fans for 6 and one half hours. This time, even with a Toronto victory, their is no relief on Long Island just yet. With an Islander win and a Maple Leaf win on Saturday 4/7/07, the New York Islanders will have to perform another Easter Miracle; this time during waking hours, and defeat the New Jersey Devils.
What was the cost in the 1990 playoff race? By the Islanders making the playoffs, and the Flyers and Penguins not making it, the Islanders forfeited their opportunity to draft future HOFer, Jaromir Jagr. The Flyers were in a position to take Jagr, which Bobby Clark wanted to do, but he was no longer the GM at the time. So with the Islanders picking 6th due to their last day playoff berth, and the Penguins failing to make the playoffs were picking 5th. Surely enough, they took Jaromir Jagr, teamed him up with Mario, and the rest is history. (Islanders consolation prize was Scott Scissons - preceded by Jaromir Jagr and proceeded by Darryl Sydor - Scissons played two career games, one play off game, and recorded 0 points)
This season will not have a similar cost. Not only is their not a Jaromir Jagr in this draft, but the Islanders don't have a #1 pick this year. It now belongs to Edmonton as being part of the Ryan Smyth trade. In closing, the spring time is the greatest time of the year. Not only does the whether get warmer, but hockey truly becomes a season within a season, and then we have the actual playoffs. Now if we can only get a schedule that has the western conference games and the eastern conference teams playing on alternating days again. The fun has just begun.