The New York Islanders have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1993. The series win over the Florida Panthers also ended two other long-standing streaks, it was their first Game 5 win since 1987 and by clinching in six games, it gave New York their first consecutive playoff wins since 2002. How did the Islanders advance?
The captain willed himself and his team to the second round. His Game 6 performance will be one for the ages. Tavares’ game-tying goal with 53 seconds left in regulation forced overtime for the second-straight game and third of the series. Defenseman Nick Leddy started the rush and drove to the net, Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo failed to cover up the puck and Tavares came flying off the bench, seems like he smelled the goal. While everyone on the ice, including Luongo, thought the play would be whistled dead, Tavares did not and he fired it home from the cease.
The Islanders had two unlikely playoff heroes in Games 3 and 5 in Thomas Hickey and Alan Quine, respectively. Was there any doubt that Tavares, who logged a ridiculous 34:49 in Game 6, would be the hero? The 2009 first overall pick fired a wrist shot, which was initially stopped by Luongo, but the rebound carried right to Tavares, Luongo could not recover and Tavares wrapped it around the net for the winner.
“I can’t be more proud of our group, led by our captain,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “It is fitting he gets the tying goal, and just a great individual play off the rebound in the double overtime.”
Tavares not only owned Game 6, but the entire first round. He racked up nine points (five goals, four assists) in the six games.
Tavares’ heroics should not overshadow the play of Thomas Greiss. General manager Garth Snow brought Greiss in to back up Jaroslav Halak. Their starter was on injured reserve multiple times this season. Greiss filled in nicely and was easily the team’s first-half MVP. The German set career highs in wins, games played and starts.
While there was uncertainly regarding Greiss heading into the playoffs, he quickly silenced his critics. Coming into this series, the 30-year old had just 40 minutes of playoff experience. Greiss also played 18 more games than his previous high of 23. He went toe-to-toe with the former Islander Luongo and came out on top. Greiss turned away 221 of 234 shots and limited the Panthers to four goals in the last three games. Greiss allowed nine goals in the first three games. Factoring the three overtime games, in which two went to double overtime, Greiss played over seven games in the series. There is no questioning his experience and durability anymore. Greiss had a 1.79 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in the series.
“He’s huge,” Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo said of Greiss. “He was great for us all series. Over the last two games and what he’s accomplished, just phenomenal. He’s played so well. I’m happy to see him doing well.”
With Halak close to returning, there is little doubt who the No. 1 goaltender is: No. 1.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Islanders failed to advance to the second round a season ago against the Washington Capitals was their power play. New York failed to convert on any of their 14 opportunities, none bigger than their final one with three minutes left in Game 7. The Isles overcame their power-play woes in a big way, scoring five in six games. Their last came from the most unlikeliest of players, rookie Alan Quine. The veteran of two NHL regular-season games one-timed a Marek Zidlicky pass past Luongo in double overtime of Game 5. Zidlicky replaced rookie Ryan Pulock, who left Game 4 with an upper-body injury. Pulock’s first career playoff goal in Game 3 followed the Panthers’ overturned goal, which would have made the score 3-0. The power-play goal ignited the Barclays Center crowd. Frans Nielsen’s PP goal tied the game at three. The Isles went 5-for-21 with the man advantage against the Panthers, good for 23.8 percent.
The Islanders path to their fifth Stanley Cup continues through the state of Florida as they will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders won the season-series, 2-1. The teams have met once in the playoffs. The Lightning defeated the Islanders in five games en route to their only Stanley Cup back in 2004.