All hail John Tavares, the new king of New York hockey.
The coronation occurred on Sunday night in Brooklyn. Tavares scored the goal that tied Game 6 against the Florida Panthers at 1-1 with 53.2 seconds left in regulation. Tavares then scored the series-winning goal at 10:41 of the second overtime on a brilliant individual effort, giving the Islanders their first playoff series win since 1993.
The Panthers were eliminated from the postseason, losing three overtime games in their six-game series, two of them in double-overtime. The Islanders move on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning as the “wild card” team in the Atlantic Division. (We know, it’s a little confusing.)
The double-overtime tally from Tavares immediately joined the annuls of Islanders’ goal-scoring history.
After taking a pass from his longtime linemate Kyle Okposo in the right circle, Tavares fired the puck on Roberto Luongo, who knocked it aside.
Here’s where the goal gets masterful: Tavares controlled the puck away from the outstretched stick of Brian Campbell. He somehow eluded the check of sophomore sensation Aaron Ekblad, and quickly wrapped the puck around into a gaping net to Luongo’s right, scoring the goal with one knee on the ice.
Pandemonium hit Barclays Center, as the Islanders christened their new building with an historic playoff win; and Tavares rightfully was fitted for his crown.
The passing of the torch is rather discernible: Henrik Lundqvist, the long-serving King of New York hockey, gets pulled in consecutive games and looks disturbingly human in the New York Rangers’ loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tavares meanwhile, finishes his series with five goals and four assists, skating 31:49 in their 2-1 double-OT Game 5 win and 34:49 in their 2-1 double-OT Game 6 clincher.
And more importantly, he plays on to the second round, while King Henrik trims his playoff beard.
The transfer of power in New York hockey has been a long time coming. Tavares was a Hart Trophy finalist last season, and with any justice will be one again this season. His unwavering consistency and stoic leadership have gotten the Islanders through many storms, and it’s the reason why they’re now eight wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup.
There’s always a hesitation in this town to believe in the Islanders, or to put their best players on the same pedestals that the Rangers players occupy. But I’ve long said that the Islanders are primed to become the next Chicago Blackhawks: a team whose championship drought was palpable, and whose return to success would be cheered widely among hockey fans eager to wallow in the nostalgia of the team’s former glory.
To that end, it’s time to admit that as Lundqvist gets another year older and the defense in front of him exhibits staggering lapses, Tavares has ascended to being the best player in New York.
Hail to the new king, baby.
Like every other game in this surprisingly good series, Game 6 was a tightly played thriller.
Jonathan Huberdeau – last seen in Brooklyn having a goal waved off and then kept off the board through two video reviews – opened the scoring with 1:02 left in the first period, falling to the ice in the slot as he fired.
The Islanders tied the game with 53.2 seconds left in regulation.
With Thomas Greiss pulled, Nick Leddy aggressively drove into the Florida zone on right wing, swinging to puck in front of the net. Matt Martin swept it on Luongo, who made the save. Nikolai Kulemin followed with shot attempt that was turned away.
But the result of that offensive chaos near the Florida crease was Luongo flat on his back with the puck sitting next to him and John Tavares unmarked in front of an open net, sending the puck home and sending the Barclays Center into hysterics.
None of this possible, by the way, if Islanders her Thomas Hickey doesn’t block an empty shot attempt from the Panthers moments early. Or if the referees called this blatant trip, which of course they won’t with the goalie pulled in a playoff game.
The first overtime saw the Islanders get the better chances, but Luongo (49 saves) was up to the task, including a fingertips save on Game 5 hero Alan Quine’s shot.
The second overtime saw more of a sustained push from the Panthers, but Greiss (41 saves) answered them all until Tavares was able to put it away.
The last time the Islanders won a playoff series, John Tavares was two years old.
Now, he’s the man.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY