UNIONDALE, N.Y. —New York Islanders fans left Nassau Coliseum Saturday afternoon unsure if they’d be back, but happy they could hold their goodbyes for now.
The Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 Monday night at Verizon Center.
A loss would have meant not only the end of the Islanders’ season, but also Nassau Coliseum, their home for the past 43 years. Beginning with the 2015-16 season, New York will play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
After both teams scored in the first period, the red light remained off until midway through the third when a wild sequence that began between the benches ended with what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Capitals and Islanders players started a scrum during a line change and it appeared as if the officials would stop play to sort things out. They didn’t, and Islanders captain John Tavares raced the puck into the Washington zone on a 2-on-3 with Nick Leddy.
“It was a war zone in front of the bench there,” said Tavares. “[I] just realized I had a lot of room and there was a lot more ice because of what was going on.”
As Tavares tried to deke around Karl Alzner, the puck squirted to the corner where he was then drilled by Alex Ovechkin into the boards. Tavares laid hunched over on the ice as the puck rolled to Leddy on the sidewall. With the exchanging of pleasantries by the benches having ended, Nikolay Kulemin hopped on the ice during the change and went unmarked in the slot as Leddy made a heads-up pass:
If you’re Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, this is not the type of defensive zone coverage you want to see in the third period of a tie game:
“I don’t pay attention to it,” said Kulemin regarding the action near the benches. “I see Johnny getting hit bad, but I saw the open space and had a chance to score, so I just take it away and shot it.”
“If our forward would have made the right read we probably wouldn’t have been in a situation where we were one-on-one with the goalie,” Trotz said of the defensive zone breakdown.
It was another game where Tavares stepped up for the Islanders. After netting the winner 15 seconds into overtime of Game 3, he opened the scoring 6:56 into the first period, the fifth time New York has done so in the series.
“This is where you need big-time players,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano. “You need to be a difference-maker, and that’s what we talked about.
“At the end of the day, if you have a chance to succeed and win a Stanley Cup, your best players have to be your best players. Johnny’s been there for us all year long.”
While Tavares stepped up offensively, Jaroslav Halak was fantastic again in goal making 38 stops. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the netminder is now 6-1 in his career in elimination games with a .956 save-percentage.
The win gives hope that Saturday wasn’t the last game at Nassau Coliseum. If the Islanders do come-from-behind to win the series, they’ll advance to meet the New York Rangers in Round 2, which would be fitting in the arena’s final season.
It will be a nervy 48 hours now for Islanders fans as they wait for Monday night and Game 7 to arrive, which will determine whether the NHL’s second-oldest building has seen its last great Islanders moment.
“It really won’t be open if we don’t win the next one,” said Matt Martin. “It was great to win in this building. We don’t want it to be the last one.”
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