Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Hey, wait a minute. Weren’t we just here last night? Yep, thanks to the NHL schedule makers, we have two home games on two consecutive nights. The visiting New York Islanders got into St. Louis yesterday from Vancouver just in time to watch the Blues play the Ducks (unless, of course, they decided to go across the river to the East Side or to the movies or something).
New York/Brooklyn occupies the eighth and last playoff slot in the East with 75 points, struggling to qualify for postseason play as the season winds down. Toronto is only one point behind the Islanders, Tampa Bay is four points back and Philadelphia is five points behind. St. Louis has the eighth playoff slot in the West, just ahead of Los Angeles.
Even though the Blues have more victories than the Islanders, New York has four more points due to more bonus points (11 to 5) and fewer losses (23 to 27). The Islanders have also scored more goals than the Blues (196 to 178), while the Note has allowed fewer goals against than New York (183 to 197), not including last night’s game against Anaheim.
The Islanders are a mere five years younger than the Blues, having joined the NHL in 1972 as an expansion team. To balance the schedule, Atlanta was also granted an expansion franchise that year. So, why would the league add two teams just five years after doubling in size to twelve in 1967? Simply put, to keep the new World Hockey Association out of the New York market. The WHA’s New York Raiders franchise was very much interested in occupying the brand-new Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale and county officials wanted to keep the “minor league” WHA out. After some political maneuvering among Nassau County, the New York Rangers (who saw a threat to their commercial dominion with another team so close) and the NHL, a franchise was awarded to wealthy clothing manufacturer Roy Boe. Of course, a fee to the Rangers was negotiated (read: extorted) in the amount of $5 million (almost $29 million in 2017 dollars).
The Islanders did not qualify for the playoffs their first two seasons, but then went on a run of 14 consecutive postseason appearances, including four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 to 1983. New York went to the Finals in 1984, but lost to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in five games. The Islanders would return to the Conference Finals in 1993, but after that did not advance beyond the first round until last year, when they lost in the second round to Tampa Bay. Since 1994, New York has appeared only seven times in postseason play.
The Blues and Islanders have never met in the playoffs.
Strange but true: in 44 years, St. Louis and New York have only made three trades, none of any great significance. In August 1972, before the Islanders even took the ice for the first time, the Blues sent winger Brian Lavender and defenseman Dave Pulkkinen to New York for cash. Lavender had scored five goals and 16 points for the Blues in 46 games before going to the Island, registering six goal and 12 points in 43 games before moving on to Detroit the following season. Pulkkinen played two games for the Islanders and faded into obscurity.
In June 1979 the Blues traded defenseman Barry Gibbs and goaltender Terry Richardson to the Islanders for future considerations, which turned out to be center Ralph Klassen. Richardson had played one game in St. Louis (nine goals against) and never played another NHL game, ending up in the AHL. Gibbs was near the end of a long (14 seasons) NHL career and signed with Los Angeles rather than stay on Long Island. The popular Klassen played parts of five seasons wearing the Bluenote, always giving maximum effort and showing true grit.
Finally, the Blues obtained goaltender Chris Osgood (and a 2003 third-round draft pick, used to select Russian goaltender Konstantin Barulin) from the Islanders in March 2003 in exchange for center Justin Papineau and a 2003 second-round draft choice (center Jeremy Colliton). Osgood lasted two seasons in St. Louis before moving on to Detroit (where he won a Stanley Cup in 2008, his third time hoisting the Cup). Barulin is still in Russia with the KHL’s Sochi HC. Papineau lasted two seasons on the Island and played in the AHL before moving to Europe, where he last played with the Mannheim Eagles in 2011. Colliton somehow lasted parts of five seasons with the Islanders, scoring only three goals and six points in 57 games.
After the game tonight, the Blues embark on a nine-day road trip with five contests, three on the West Coast and one each in Arizona and Colorado. This journey will likely determine the Note’s fate this season as anything less than three wins will increase the odds the Kings overtake the Blues for the eighth and last playoff slot. Obviously, that means Monday’s game in Los Angeles has special significance for both teams. The Kings have nine home matches remaining, with four against non-playoff teams. Of their six remaining road games, only one is against a team not playoff-bound at this writing. The schedule obviously favors the Blues, who have 11 games remaining against non-playoff teams after tonight.
After the long road trip, it’s three at home for the Note (Canucks, Flames and Coyotes), two back in Phoenix and Denver, two at home (division rivals Nashville and Winnipeg), two on the road (Panthers and Hurricanes) and the Avs at home to end the regular season. Or will it be the end of the 2016-17 season?