On to Tampa for drought-killing Isles
Tavares and Crew Primed for Serious Run at Lord Stanley’s Cup
When it was all over late Sunday night, after nearly every one of the 15,795 witnesses to the Islanders’ historic feat at Downtown’s Barclays Center had poured out onto Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, Matt Martin could finally come clean.
“We’ve gone through some dark days together,” the six-year veteran revealed after team captain John Tavares scored the tying and game-winning goals in a scintillating 2-1, double-overtime Game 6 victory over the Florida Panthers that sent the Islanders into the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time in 23 years.
“There’s a big group of us that have been a part of a 25-game losing streak, being the laughingstock of the league and having a lot of negative media around us,” Martin added.
“To go through all of this together, and we obviously had some key additions, but it feels good to do it together, especially after last season’s loss in Game 7. [General Manager Garth Snow], [head coach Jack] Capuano and the coaches stuck to their guns and believed in us and we couldn’t be happier right now.”
Martin certainly wasn’t the only one expressing relief that the Islanders had finally put their 1993 playoff series win over Pittsburgh in the rear-view mirror.
A franchise that has had to endure watching the Rangers capture a Stanley Cup (1994) and the Devils win three (1995, 2000, 2003) since its last time on the good side of a post-series handshake line is finally in sole possession of the tristate area’s attention.
Even the Empire State Building was lit up in traditional orange and blue in their honor.
“We’ve gone through so much that, for me, what it means is the guys battled,” Capuano said. “The last two months of the season we lost a lot of players, and it didn’t matter who we put in the lineup — they found a way.”
“It’s been a long road, a lot of years of losing but this is incredible,” center Frans Nielsen added. “We had to work so hard for it. It is really satisfying sitting here right now the way we did it.”
The Islanders are hoping to stretch that “long road” out a bit further beginning Wednesday night, when they open their best-of-7 second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, defending Eastern Conference champions.
The remainder of the series’ dates have not yet been released.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk noted. “We need to just keep playing the way we know we can and good things will happen.”
Good things have been few and far between for the Islanders, who won four Stanley Cup titles at the Nassau Coliseum between 1980-83, but have been an afterthought on the New York sporting scene ever since.
That all changed Sunday night, when Tavares, arguably the best player in the world, imposed his will with a tying tally in the final minute of regulation and the putback of his own rebound that gave the Barclays Center its first forever moment since opening back in 2012.
Perhaps no player in the recent history of New York sports has done so much for one franchise while receiving so little in the way of fanfare.
But now, beginning with Game 1 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, Tavares and the Islanders have an opportunity to pave their own path to greatness, rather than trying to prove that they are worthy of even competing for Lord Stanley’s coveted cup.
They are free and clear of the drought, or the curse, or the streak, or whatever those who doubted them chose to call it.
They are ready to surpass expectations, rather than just living up to or establishing them.
“It’s time,” Tavares said. “We had to get over this hump and push forward.”
Isle Have Another: Tampa Bay, backstopped by red-hot goalie Ben Bishop, has already climbed to the precipice of immortality. The Lightning stunned the Rangers in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden before bowing out to the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks with the Cup on the line last year. They took out the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the opening round and have had plenty of time to rest and wait for the winner of the New York-Florida series since closing out theirs on April 22 … The Isles and Lightning met three times during the regular season, with New York holding a 2-1 edge in that series. However, the last, and only previous time the teams met in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Tampa beat the Isles in six games in the opening round en route to grabbing its first Stanley Cup title in 2004 … Tavares finished the series with nine points (five goals, four assists) and was the only Islander to score in the team’s two losses against Florida … Thomas Greiss, who had never started a postseason series prior to stonewalling Jaromir Jagr and the Panthers, yielded 10 goals in the six games, earning high praise from his coach and teammates. “He’s just one of those guys that if something happens, there’s a mistake or whatever it is, it’s a quick turnaround,” said defenseman Travis Hamonic of Greiss. “It’s in his mind and it’s out pretty quickly. When you’re a player in front of a guy like Greiss, mistakes are going to happen and he’s certainly never one to make you feel bad about it and he’s always there to make sure he’s trying to back you up — and doing it with a smile most of the time.”
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