What are the two most dramatic words in sports? You guessed it. They are: GAME SEVEN! And do you know what Friday night is? That’s right, it’s GAME SEVEN between the Islanders and Lightning. Hockey’s Winner-Take-All Game will be played down in Tampa, however, even the most die-hard of fans will tell you that anything can happen in a Seventh game. So start praying to whatever Hockey Deities you worship, because the Islanders are going to need every last trick up in the book to pull off another miracle.
On Wednesday night, Nassau Coliseum was the site of the Islanders’ version of The Battle of Samar. With elimination in the offing, the closure of The Old Barn in sight and the overwhelming force of the Tampa Bay Lightning skating right at them, the Boys from Long Island made a last ditch stand and defended their home ice against the longest of odds in a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory in Game Six that was equal parts thrilling and nerve wracking. A late third period goal by Scott Mayfield and an early overtime goal by Anthony Beauvillier sent The Coliseum Faithful home happy.
Blood was spilt. Sweat profusely poured out of every orifice the players have. Their bodies were battered and bruised. And yet, when the final horn sounded, they were still very much alive. After the abomination that was their 8-0 Game Five loss on Monday night THIS was exactly what the doctor ordered. Now the question becomes, can they do it again, away from the confines of Nassau Coliseum? We’ll have to wait till Friday night to find out the answer.
But for right now, let’s savor this victory and let’s remember what it took to make it possible.
First things, first, The Old Barn was rocking once again for the new National Anthem tradition, which was loud enough to induce goosebumps all the way down Hempstead Turnpike.
Both teams started hard and heavy as the hits were flying early. Both fourth-lines had more interest in hitting everybody in sight than they did in clearing the puck. And that extended to the other players too, as Nikita Kucherov took a run at Mathew Barzal, however, Barzal ducked out of the way at the last moment. Replays showed Kucherov may have injured his arm going into the glass as he was visibly uncomfortable immediately after the play and had to leave the ice to get checked out. (He did not return).
Kucherov wasn’t the only player to leave the game though as Matt Martin headed off for repairs late in the period after taking a stick up high and did not return before the intermission began.
Without Kucherov, the Lightning were only able to generate seven shots on goal in the first period — the Isles had six. However, the teams did combine for 29-hits. It wasn’t an exciting, up and down period like what the Lightning prefer, rather it was a slow ploddy period, like what the Islanders prefer.
Unfortunately for the Boys from Long Island, even with getting Tampa to play the Isles preferred style of hockey, Brayden Point still managed to get the Lightning on the board with a backhander past Semyon Varlamov with just 3:58 left in the opening period for the 1-0 lead. Point’s goal extended his streak to nine-straight games and put him one shy of tying the NHL Playoff record of 10, set by Reggie Leach in 1976.
That was all for the first period. Overall, not a bad period for the Islanders, but the team was still hesitant to shoot the puck at times and did not create enough traffic in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy to truly challenge Tampa’s netminder.
So, when the second period began, the Nassaumen sought to even things up. And the good news for the Isles was that Matt Martin was back.
A Leo Komarov open ice hit led to Bazarl getting a quality scoring chance, but Vasilevskiy made the glove save through traffic. And that was followed up moments later by a Casey Cizikas off-angle shot that forced Vasilevskiy to make an awkward save.
However, the pace of the game opened up early in the second period and that did not favor the Islanders.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Nassaumen weren’t still hitting everybody in sight as Matt Martin (cleanly) blew up Ross Colton on a hit against the glass that sent Colton to Tampa’s room to be looked at.
Moments later, Cizikas and Luke Schenn engaged in some extracurriculars and that led to Cal Clutterbuck getting involved with Tyler Johnson. So, Clutterbuck was sent to the box for roughing and the Lightning were granted a questionable power-play.
Before the start of Tampa’s power-play, Colton returned to the Lightning bench and then Victor Hedman was called for tripping Cizikas to negate the final 58-seconds of his team’s power-play.
So, the teams skated four-aside for 58-seconds before the Islanders went to a shortened power-play of their own. Seconds later, Mikhail Sergachev was called for interfering with Barzal to give the Islanders 16-seconds of a four-on-three power-play before having a five-on-three power-play for 1:02.
Kyle Palmieri had a couple of quality shot attempts against Vasilevskiy but they were all for naught as Tampa killed off all the penalties. That missed opportunity came back to bite the Islanders moments later as Anthony Cirelli got loose on a partial breakaway by getting past Ryan Pulock and Nick Leddy and beat Varlamov five-hole to put Tampa up 2-0 with 7:24 to go in the second period.
Most importantly, the goal quieted The Coliseum crowd as the Isles impending elimination became more of a reality.
Wait just a minute!
With 5:38 to go in the middle period, Mathew Barzal setup Jordan Eberle, who whizzed a backhander past Vasilevskiy for his first goal in his last seven-games to bring the Isles within 2-1. And, Eberle’s goal also brought The Coliseum crowd back to life.
By the way, Eberle’s goal broke a 12-0 run of Tampa goals that dates back to the third period of Game Four.
The Islanders showcased a renewed sense of purpose after Eberle’s goal and came oh so close to tying the game moments later. However, Tampa also had a quality chance at the other end of the ice as Yanni Gourde came inches away from scoring with under two-minutes to play in the middle period. Luckily, Varlamov made the glove save through traffic to snuff out the danger.
That was all for the second period, but after the whistle some extracurriculars broke out between Scott Mayfield and Steven Stamkos, which led to the fans chanting “F**K You, Stamkos” as the players were escorted off the ice. So, through 40-minutes of play it was 2-1 Lightning and the Islanders had just 20-minutes to save their season.
The third period began with Mayfield and Blake Coleman in their respective penalty boxes for their roles in the after-the-whistle-antics at the end of the second period; so the teams began the final 20-minutes skating four-aside.
After Mayfield and Coleman exited the boxes the flow of the game opened up as the desperation level of the Islanders reached a fever pitch. And with 8:15 gone in the third period, Alex Killorn was called for holding Jordan Eberle to give the Islanders a critical power-play opportunity.
It was easily the biggest power-play opportunity of the year for the Islanders, but they again flubbed the chance by failing to get shots towards Vasilevskiy.
But fear not Islanders fans as Mathew Barzal, who was a man on a mission in the third period, dished the puck to Scott Mayfield who carried down low and then fired a roof job over Vasilevskiy with 11:16 gone by to tie the game 2-2.
By the way, it took until there was only 6:55 left in regulation for Tampa to get their first shot on goal of the third period. And after that, Matt Martin was called for high-sticking Pat Maroon with just 5:57 to go in regulation.
The following Isles penalty-kill was the biggest of the year for the home team and they successfully killed off the penalty thanks to three terrific saves from Varlamov, as well as a diving clear by Game Four hero Ryan Pulock.
From there, the game headed to sudden-death overtime as neither team could score the winner in the final couple minutes.
It didn’t take long for that to change in overtime. Anthony Beauvillier stole the puck from Coleman in the slot and sniped the puck past Vasilevskiy for the 3-2 overtime winner 1:08 into the extra period.
See you for Game Seven Friday Night!
The Isles went 0-for-3 on the power-play to go to 1-for-16 in the series and 10-for-48 in the playoffs…The Isles went 2-for-2 on the penalty-kill to go to 11-for-16 in the series and 27-for-42 in the playoffs…Jordan Eberle’s goal was his first in his last seven-games…Scott Mayfield’s third period goal tied the game and send the Isles fans in attendance through the roof…Mathew Barzal had two assists…Anthony Beauvillier netted the overtime winner 1:08 into overtime.
Game 7 — Friday June 25th Islanders at Lightning at Amalie Arena at 8pm(EST).
TV: NBCSN, TVAS, CBC, SN
Radio: 88.7FM WRHU