Photo: Bruce Bennett
Who saw this coming? Seriously, who did? The optimistic Islanders fans and the diehards couldn’t believe what they saw. Even the Islanders had to be surprised with how everything played out.
The Lightning suffocated the Islanders defensively for most of the game, and when the Islanders generated shots, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stoned them. It sure seemed bleak as the game went on.
But then a funny thing happened. The Islanders kept plugging in and finally tying the game. They got all the momentum from there, and Anthony Beauvillier ended it by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, giving the Islanders a 3-2 Game 6 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum to take into Game 7 Friday night at Amalie Arena.
You bet the Islanders are happy to take the flight to Tampa and give themselves a chance to win Game 7. To play in Game 7 is what every player dreams of. To coach in Game 7 is what every aspiring coach loves to do. To play Game 7 with the Stanley Cup Final appearance in stake is certainly what the Islanders embrace after this Stanley Cup semifinals turned out to be peaks and valleys for them.
It hasn’t been pretty. The Lightning at times have dominated the Islanders, but here it is: The Islanders can change all that by winning Game 7.
After what looked bleak most of the game with the Lightning taking a 2-0 lead, the Islanders are just happy to play one more game. It beats watching Game 7 on television.
It started with Jordan Eberle scoring a goal in the second period that cut it to 2-1 on a highlight-reel pass by Mathew Barzal. It offered some hope in the sense the Islanders had a chance. It would set the tone for something great later.
When Scott Mayfield hit a nice shot that tied the game at 2 in the second period, there was hope again. Islanders fans believed. The Islanders believed they could pull this off. Momentum went the Islanders’ way where they dominated the puck and pushed the Lightning all around. Just like that. One flick of a bounce can change things. One goal can make the momentum go the other way.
Then, it was Beauvillier that scored the game-winner on a turnover by Blake Coleman. The type of goal that you can’t teach. The type of goal that comes out of nowhere. The type of goal that you expect from a great player.
Beauvillier has not had a great series, but on this night, it was his night. He was finally due. He picked the right timing to be due.
To say it was one of the best moments in Islanders history is an understatement. For anyone that grew up an Islanders fan in the late 80s, this is by far the best moment for them. For the younger generation that just started getting into hockey, it’s going to be hard for them to understand the context outside of just being amazed at how it unfolded.
Beauvillier’s moment to us and the younger generation is our John Tonelli’s pass to Bobby Nystrom that would help clinch the Islanders win the Stanley Cup in 1980.
It’s something the Islanders and their fans won’t forget. They can always watch the highlights on YouTube and on NHL commercials forever. It will be recreated in everyone’s mind forever and ever.
You can also say the same thing about Mayfield’s game-tying goal since it set the stage for what Beauvillier did, though it’s hard to compare Mayfield’s game-tying goal to Tonelli and Nystrom.
The Islanders’ objective this season was to go to the Stanley Cup Final and beat the Lightning in the process. They are a game away from achieving this goal and being almost there on the top of the mountain. To get to Game 7 and win it the way they did in Game 6 showed another growth of this hockey team under Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.
In some ways, it will never be this good or this innocent for the Islanders again.
Expectations will continue to get higher. If they lose Game 7 with a 2-1 loss in regulation or overtime, it won’t be considered a disappointment the way the Rangers lost 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 2015 Eastern Conference Finals at home.
Game 7 raised so many stakes. Can the Islanders keep this good run going for another week? Can the Lightning avoid choking this series lead and continue their impressive run of going back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in seven years?
Game 7 becomes a legacy game as it always is. So much on the line.
The Islanders are happy to be part of it after almost having their season end in a flash.
If they don’t play in the Coliseum after tomorrow night, they finish out their last game ever at the old barn with a bang.