Despite the Islanders’ Wade Dubielewicz (above, right) winning the goaltender duel with the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist last night at the Nassau Mausoleum, the Fishsticks probably need to run the table the rest of the way to have any shot at the playoffs. Newsday’s Wally Matthews — presumably denied a chance this week to write about El Duque and Tom Glavine being washed up — places the blame for Ted Nolan & co.’s predictament squarely on the shoulders of the suspended Chris Simon.
At the time, Simple Simon’s hit appeared to be merely the turning point of a game. Now it is obvious it was the breaking point of a season.
In the ensuing 26 days, the Islanders lost 8 of 12 games, they lost their way to the net and they lost their franchise goalie to a career-threatening head injury. They plummeted from the seventh seed to a tie for 10th.
Some will point to the heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 5, when Rick DiPietro stopped a franchise-record 56 shots but still came away with a loss, others to the two concussions the goaltender suffered in a seven-day period that probably has ended his season.
But those were all ancillary events, occurring after the fact, kicks to the head delivered after the fatal shot had already been fired.
It is obvious Simon’s hit flattened his own team and elevated their bitterest rival. Rangers fans, who were outraged by Simon’s hit last month, have to be overjoyed with it today. While Ryan Hollweg hardly missed a shift, the Islanders lost more than just a forward that night. They also lost a spark that they haven’t been able to get back.
Poetic justice? A fair punishment for a play that was uncalled for? Or simply the final straw in a season that, it now seems clear, was a lot more tenuous than it had appeared to that point?
On that night, a lot of people in the Coliseum were worried about the health of Hollweg. It took 26 days to fully understand that the real damage had been done to the Islanders.