The New York Islanders‘ Game 6 victory, staving off elimination, could prove to be the last game at Nassau Coliseum. If it sounds familiar, it’s because six years ago, the Islanders forced a Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in what was supposed to be the last game at the Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Even though we’re talking about the first round vs the semi-final, there are a lot of similarities between these games and what preceded them. What the Islanders need to do this season, as opposed to 2015, is show up for Game 7. Can they keep the Coliseum open for at least two more games or, at the very least, put up a decent fight?
Game 5 Letdowns
Both the Capitals series in 2015 and the current series against the Lightning served up similar storylines. The Islanders were beaten by a wide margin – 5-1 and 8-0 respectively – on the road setting up an elimination game at the Coliseum. Emotional Game 4s, a loss in 2015, and a win in 2021 set up a letdown in Game 5. We’ve seen the lack of consistency continue over a decade, unable to play complete games on a regular basis and, outside of a few fairly long streaks, a lot of up-and-down play.
Now, although it’s tough to draw parallels between two teams over a half-decade apart, the team’s construction and style of play haven’t changed much over the years. As I’ve written before, though some of the personal – behind the bench, in the press box, and on the ice – have changed since 2015, the identity of this team has existed since well before the series with the Capitals. The addition of head coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello provided the stability and structure the Islanders’ have needed to get to where they are today.
Having said that, it’s very, very difficult to play the way the Islanders do every single night; you’re going to have letdown games, there’s no question about it. Physically and mentally, even before Trotz, the way this team plays there are going to be some nights – or multiple nights in a row, much to the chagrin of everyone – they simply don’t have it.
And the big reason some of these games get away from the Islanders occurs because it’s tough to muster up the energy to play their style after you’re down two or three goals in the first period. The Islanders looked crushed early on in their most recent Game 5 gaff, a Steven Stamkos tally just minutes into the game, which is out of character, but following the emotional win two nights earlier, it was almost a given they couldn’t continue to ride the adrenaline into the following game.
Game 6 Redemptions
Those Game 5 letdowns set up something magical at the Coliseum for two Game 6 matchups. A building energized by some of the loudest fans in the game has often been a catalyst for the Islanders. “I didn’t know much about the island other than the Marriott and the parking lot to the Coliseum over the years [before I came to the Islanders],” Trotz told reporters on Wednesday morning. “…And I found out it’s really a terrific community. Just the support in this area, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced.
Late game heroics from unlikely characters set the stage for victory and, in all honesty, a proper sendoff to a magical barn. In both cases, the Islanders were the underdogs, rightly or wrongly, but managed to play their game and keep the series alive. In 2015, Nikolay Kulemin put the Islanders ahead at 10:33 of the third period. Six years later, defenseman Scott Mayfield, who has been criticized by Islander fans for much of this playoff run, scored at 11:16 of the third period to tie the game at two.
Though Mayfield’s goal wasn’t the game-winner, it set up a special moment for Isles fans at the Coliseum. Anthony Beauvillier, another lightning rod for Islander fans throughout the 2020-21 season and playoff run, lifted the team to victory just a few moments into overtime at the Coliseum. It was a reminder of his ability to score goals, however inconsistent. His speed and tenacity have always been there, but the scoring touch comes and goes. Perhaps this is the motivation he needs for Game 7.
Game 7 Unwritten
In 2015, the Islanders came out as they did in Game 4 of that series, lacking energy for much of the game before finding a way to push the envelope late in the third period. Though the score was only 2-1, it may as well have been 10-0; the Islanders’ struggled to generate much of anything and looked sloppy in all three zones. Both Game 6 victories were another emotional game for the Islanders, a recipe for disaster earlier in the series. Trotz is a big proponent of momentum not carrying over from one game to the next, but considering how the Islanders were able to mount a comeback against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, they could use a little extra push to get them over the Game 7 hump. They need to stick to their game plan and not get discouraged early as they did in Game 5. Energy and emotions will be running high in enemy territory, so keeping a steady head will be the name of the game for Trotz’s squad.
The Islanders have a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984, quite the journey for many long-time Islander fans regardless of age. It will be a nerve-racking day for many as anticipation builds for the matchup at Amalie Arena in Tampa this evening. Buckle up, Isles fans.
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Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.