So many players contributed to help push the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games and two overtimes. (On that note, it's incredible to think that had two overtimes bounced the other way, the Islanders would have won the series in six while being outscored 9-0 in Games 1 and 5.)
Anyway, you don't last that long in a playoff series against a tough opponent without a full team effort beyond the franchise star. So who were your three stars of the series, from an Islanders perspective?
My three picks are below, but first a few linky appetizers:
- Some more post-mortem in Newsday. Meetings among coaches today, exit interviews with players tomorrow.
- NHL.com's Brian Compton on WFAN discussing playoffs, including the Isles' run.
- Big NHL news: Boogaard’s Family Files Wrongful-Death Suit Against N.H.L. - NYTimes.com
- And a nod to the mothers (not hockey-specific).
Three Stars of the Series
1. John Tavares: The Franchise
Obvious and inarguable, but still impressive and required to be mentioned. Like the entire team, Tavares was ineffective and almost overwhelmed in Game 1. Like the whole team, he rebounded considerably the rest of the series.
Watching the kid grow up before our eyes, watching how physically overmatched he was his rookie year, it was a special kind of joy to see him score big playoff goals in front of the Coliseum crowd. It sounds silly to say after a first-round loss, but the images of him cutting through the faceoff circle and slot for his huge goals in Games 3, 4 and 6 are images permanently burned to my brain.
What's great is those images are burned into the minds of everyone who watched on TV as well as the ~16000 vantage points at each game. Here's how the Game 4 winner looked to Mike (our FIGmeister and Master of Power Tablature, ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles):
Lucky for us, there should be plenty more "Remember when..."s in his career.
2. Kyle Okposo: The Beast Within
All of us have seen different episodes of "beast mode" from Okposo, and all of us have seen stretches where he lacks that constant drive and tenacious board work he exhibits when he is in form. It's safe to say the numbers and many observers noted a steady rebound in his game in the second half of the season, even if it didn't lead to gaudy numbers.
But no one expected what he showed in the conference quarterfinal. I can say that with 100 percent certainty because the man had never fought in an NHL game before. (This one doesn't count.) Yet with the team down 1-0 in the series and having been outscored 8-1 thus far, Okposo's unloading on Matt Niskanen in Game 2 was a shot in the arm that had been pushing but not seeing results.
No, the team doesn't come back in that game without already playing better than the score indicated to that point. But you would have to ignore human nature to suggest his fight had no effect on the team's performance in that game and the rest of the series.
Okposo had his goals -- two with considerable assistance from Marc-Andre Fleury, Friend of the People -- but he was the most exciting player on the ice (not named Tavares) in multiple situations even when he wasn't scoring. He and Frans Nielsen recaptured some of their 2010-11 magic down the stretch, and that chemistry continued no matter who was on their left wing, Josh Bailey or Matt Moulson.
3. Evgeni Nabokov
3. The Third Line: Michael Grabner, Keith Aucoin, Colin McDonald
Before the series we discussed how the Islanders would need some bonus contributions from their bottom six to win four of seven games. While they were two wins short, they got those contributions. Casey Cizikas deserves a nod too, but it was the contributions of the third line at both ends that allowed the Islanders to excel even in moments when the top two lines needed a break or weren't breaking through.
McDonald's goal in Game 2 was pivotal; his goal in Game 6 should have been. Though many of us wish more ice time could be found for the speedy and dangerous Grabner -- his speed almost made him an overtime hero with his wraparound try in Game 6 -- it was some kind of asset to have him in chemistry with the other two on the third line.
Simply, they were in sync. Their cohesion really shined on their two goals in Game 6, first when Grabner won the puck on the forecheck out to Aucoin who quickly fed McDonald, then when Aucoin read the play to intercept, fake a shot, and set up Grabner for another go-ahead goal.
McDonald was already re-signed during the season. Aucoin is a free agent. What's scary about how well they played down the stretch and in this round is that chemistry can be fleeting. Like relievers in baseball, their mojo could be here today, gone tomorrow. We'll see what the offseason brings, but in the 2013 playoffs that was the kind of third line they needed.
Anyway, those are my picks. There is obviously room for your own below.