In Game 1 of their series with the hated and oft-feared Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders franchise star John Tavares had a disappointing NHL playoff debut as his team laid an egg. Fans' worst fears, sewed by low expectations, appeared confirmed.
In Game 2, Tavares looked far more like his true self and picked up his first playoff point while his team carried the Islanders to an inspiring first win. A split, and new hope, for a long-suffering fanbase.
In Game 3 he scored his first NHL playoff goal, a thundering moment that should have been poetic but was forgotten after officials set penalties to "on" a few minutes into overtime.
In Game 4 came another vintage Tavares goal, an individual effort that got the Coliseum crowd gasping louder with each cutback, erupting in full roar after he finished his rebound, and this time it held up as the game winner. Crowd on its feet, voices deafening, echoes of 30 years ago ringing out across Long Island.
(I love that in the first celebration shot after the goal above, 5-9-19-22-23-31 watch over in the background.)
Despite several mid-2000s playoff appearances, Tuesday's Game 4 was the first Islanders playoff win on Coliseum ice since 2002.
If you weren't around for the dynasty years, were too young to appreciate 1993, and have only a child's memory or a DVD's recreation of Shawn Bates and the gang in 2002, now you know.
Now you know.
You don't have to hear old timers yammer on about what it was like to have Nassau Coliseum truly come alive, and you don't have to hear "Yeah, but he's no [insert Islanders legend here]..." You have your own stars now, your own "beast modes" (your own vocabulary at that), your own descendents of John Tonelli.
I don't know what's going on this spring, but in those brief moments when the chills pause their endless laps around my spine I keep hearing the same words in my head again and again: "They deserve this." Fans, players, tireless staff -- those towels on the seats don't appear by magic -- and yes the coaches and management you might relentlessly question, they all deserve these moments too.
It's been a long damn haul for everyone. Some fans were lost, or put on hiatus, because the returns simply weren't the investment of sticking around. You must understand that, and welcome them back. Many have stories to tell, and you'll want to update them on what they missed.
I don't know which step this is, nor how many steps will be reached this spring and how many will be left for later years. With 30 teams and many rich owners I don't know how many steps will ever be reached. (So far we've seen just two wins, after all. The beauty of playoffs is its high stakes: It could go on for weeks, or it could be over by Saturday. Fans' aspirations run the full spectrum in the 44 hours between each game.)
There have been many points over the past five years where I thought moments like these would come, that one day they'd come frequently, and I hoped like hell they'd arrive before the Coliseum was no more.
Since the Internet made this a whole lot easier, I've met new friends over the years and seen addicts of this site or other forums meet each other and tailgate in the name of hockey. People across the continent and around the planet connect, ever so briefly, around this and feel what it was like to be there. It all reminds me how the common thread of sports can bring people and families together who might otherwise never find that bond. There's such power in that. Sports fandom is rather silly and can be really ugly, but we endure all that for moments like these.
Now I'm getting queries from far-off readers, comments from people who stay up until 2 a.m. to watch the start of the game, and texts from friends like "No more taunts for your Isles gear at pickup; your team is fun to watch." And my favorite from longtime The Arena."fans, because it hits me in the gut as it recalls the long-gone barn where my father first showed me live hockey, and first brought me to an Isles game: "That place sounds like
Yeah, it does ... but no, no it doesn't. It sounds like the Coliseum. You deserve to feel it.
Thanks to the Game 4 win that now necessitates a Game 6, we know you'll get to feel it again.