Finally! Islanders advance to second round for first time since 1993
The Barclays Center crowd was roaring during pregame introductions and through the early minutes of the game.
After being quieted some while the New York Islanders trailed, they roared again when captain John Tavares tied it in the final minute of regulation and sent the fans into a frenzy after more than 30 minutes of overtime.
Tavares‘ fifth goal of the series, at 10:41 of the second extra period, gave New York a 2-1 victory in Game 6 on Sunday night, sending the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Yes, their long postseason drought is finally over.
“First and foremost for our fan base, they have been dying for this,” Tavares said. “No question, a lot of us haven’t been here that long but some of us have been here a while. … It’s time we had to get over this hump and push forward.”
Since reaching the Wales Conference finals 23 years ago, the Islanders had seven first-round exits, including Game 7 losses on the road at Toronto in 2002 and at Washington a year ago. This was the Islanders’ first potential clinching game at home since the first round of the 1993 playoffs against the Capitals.
“It’s been a long road, a lot of years of losing but this is incredible,” center Frans Nielsen said. “We had to work so hard for it. It is really satisfying sitting here right now the way we did it.”
And they did it in their first year in their new Brooklyn arena after spending the franchise’s first 43 years at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.
On the winning goal, Tavares skated in and fired an initial shot that Roberto Luongo saved, but the Islanders star got the rebound, wrapped around the net and stuffed the puck in before the diving goalie could get back. Tavares was quickly mobbed by his teammates after ending the longest home game in Islanders history.
“When I got the rebound I realized how far he came out,” Tavares said. “I had a good step and just tried to — not take my time — but really make sure I had control of the puck. And obviously once you get around the net, make sure it goes in.”
Thomas Greiss finished with 41 saves in the teams’ second straight two-overtime game and third in the series that went past regulation. The Islanders won Game 3 here 4-3 in the first extra period, and took Game 5 in Florida 2-1 at 16 minutes of the second OT.
Now the Islanders will have a few days to prepare for Tampa Bay in the next round. The Lightning beat Detroit in five games.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “We need to just keep playing the way we know we can and good things will happen.”
Tavares tied it with just under 54 seconds left in the third period after New York defenseman Nick Leddy took the puck behind his own empty net, skated all the way down the right side and sent a centering pass from behind the Panthers’ goal. Nikolay Kulemin tried to tip it in, but Luongo dived to his left on top of it. But the puck trickled out from underneath him to his right, and Tavares swooped in to bury it.
The Panthers have now lost four first-round series since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, with all their losses in this series coming by one goal.
“I thought we had it with one minute left and we were so close to scoring the empty-netter,” the Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr said. “For a lot of guys it was their first playoff series and it’s different hockey. Most of the games we had a lead, we just didn’t close it.”
Greiss gave up just 13 goals on 234 shots in the series for a 1.79 goals-against average and a .944 save-percentage.
“He played great,” Capuano said. “You need goaltending and he came up big for us.”
The Islanders controlled the play for most of the opening period, but the Panthers took the lead just before the closing minute of the period after New York turned it over in its own zone.
Vincent Trochek sent a pass to Jonathan Huberdeau, who spun and fired a shot from the high slot while falling down with the puck going over Greiss’ blocker with 1:02 remaining. It was Huberdeau’s first goal of the series and marked the fifth time Florida scored first.
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