The Islanders were battling all night. They had chance after chance to put the game away, and Keith Kincaid stood tall, keeping it close. Even through nine power plays, two plus five-on-threes (the plus comes because they didn’t really try much on the third), the Isles could not blow the game open.
So, John Tavares did what he does. He worked extremely hard from behind the net to get the puck towards the front, to set up a guy like Anders Lee who pretty much lives there. Unfortunately, he got his leg caught up in the net and took an awkward step forward. When he became untangled, he fell to the ice in pain. He tried to get up several times, but the pain was too intense. He was holding the back of his leg, as if to indicate a hamstring injury.
“He got his foot caught up a little behind the net,” line-mate Anders Lee said. “I don’t know if he hit the net or what, but it just looked like he knew it right away and he went down. That’s all I know. I saw him when I came in after the game, he was getting taken [into the trainers room]. We’ll see what happens, hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”
Obviously the team is concerned when their captain has to be helped off the ice.
“It’s a big blow,” Coach Doug Weight said. “Anytime you see your best player go down, and obviously he was in some distress, but these guys have been around. Injuries happen. It’s not fun, but it gives somebody a chance, right? It’s going to give some more minutes to throw around, some big challenges at a good time of the year. We’ve got to win a game on Sunday.”
That they do. In fact, they have to go undefeated in the last five to even have a sniff at the playoffs. The team faces Buffalo tomorrow, followed by Nashville, Carolina, New Jersey, and Ottawa. Is it possible they win all five? Sure. They can play with any of these teams. But, without Tavares, their leader on and off the ice, it’s going to be even more difficult than it was before.
The Isles are already missing Travis Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, and Nikolai Kulemin with injuries. They are all likely done for the season. You can now add Tavares to that list. The Islanders say he is “week-to-week.” That is not a good sign. Day-to-day is one thing, week-to-week is not promising. So, you can assume he is also done for the regular season.
“The morale will be fine. It’s nothing you want to deal with, but it happens in a game,” Weight said.
And he’s right, it does. But, far too often it happens at the wrong time.
So, it looks like the Isles will need to trudge on without their captain. But, while we await a call up, we will see who can step up and fill the void. Will it be Anders Lee, Joshua Ho-Sang, or Anders Lee? Or will it be a guy like Jason Chimera or Cal Clutterbuck who grinds their way to a goal?
No matter who it is, the Islanders know that every game is a must-win with their tragic number at seven. Any combination of Bruins’ points and Islanders’ lost points will end the Isles’ season. It may take until the end of the week, but the likelihood is that without their best player, it will in fact happen.
When you look at where the Islanders were in December, to actually be eliminated in the last week of the season is actually a huge step forward. Let’s see if that kind of positivity can carry through to the off-season where major changes are expected and needed to get this team to the next level.