The New York Islanders enter the 2015 All-Star Break in first place in the Eastern Conference after a breezy 7-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, who are atop the Metropolitan Division's bottom quartet of fading teams.
Playing their last game before a lengthy break against a quite beatable opponent, the Isles made it look so easy that they almost made it hard: Four times they opened three-goal leads only to concede and give the Flyers a bit of false hope. But each time they got the next one, with the fifth occasion coming on an Anders Lee empty net goal.
Lee's long shot amusingly into the top corner of the empty net put him among six different Islanders goal scorers, with Nikolay Kulemin getting a pair capped by a brilliant shot-block-turned-shorthanded breakaway.
With the Flyers having just clawed back to 4-2 and applying pressure late in the second period, the Isles received a power play with one minute left. Frans Nielsen won a battle along the boards to feed John Tavares alone in the slot, where he made no doubt with a mesmerizing series of moves and roofed backhander past Ray Emery.
Though the Flyers would get yet another back early in the third period -- another Jaroslav Halak gift behind the net, when he flubbed his pass -- the Tavares goal seemed to declare, "This game is over."
Twenty minutes more of swapping goals and hits later, it was.
Not mentioned above
- Michael Grabner opened scoring in the second minute with a familiar burst of speed around Carlo Colaiacovo and a brilliant snipe into the far upper corner past the glove of Rob Zepp, who was pulled after four goals on 20 shots in 31 minutes.
- Colaiacovo knows no luck but disastrous luck, so he left the ice and the game limping after Kulemin's stick poked the inside of his left skate. It was a missed penalty on Kulemin but not a vicious thing; just a Colaiacovo-luck thing.
- Evidently Nick Schultz was also injured. The Flyers are gonna need themselves another Isles defenseman.
- Josh Bailey scored (and shot!) while falling to collect his sixth point in the last three games, just after a pretty well-run power play expired.
- Kulemin's shorthanded goal was just a thing of beauty, from the block, to fighting off Matt Read, to the patience of his deke and lift around Zepp.
- Not to be forgotten, Casey Cizikas had a brilliant backhand deke too, but Zepp stopped that one.
- After a couple of missed calls in the third, the Isles fourth line took out their frustration with the refs on the Flyers, with a series of thundering hits that brought the crowd to another level.
- I don't want Halak to stop playing the puck there. As the Isles have said, having two options there is part of their breakout (and, when it goes wrong, part of the opponent's easy setup for a goal). It's key for their quick turnaround. So I just want Halak to be ... oh, like really careful out there.
- The Isles' speed was absurdly evident against the Flyers all afternoon. Man, that's fun to watch.
The Cycle of Hockey
Broad Street Hockey has plenty of coverage from the Flyers' perspective. This about sums up how this once-lopsided rivalry has turned on its head:
God, the Flyers are bad.
We've known this all season, really, but things are really exacerbated when they play against fast, skilled teams like the New York Islanders. And thus, in their last game ever at Nassau Coliseum, the Flyers were rolled by the first-place Islanders 7-4 in an MLK Day matinee.
Speaking of which, one of the things I remember from when the Isles were bad was fans jumping on the wrong reasons, which is like doubling the misery. (It's one thing to bash a bad team; it's another to not even select from the vast menu of valid reasons to bash a bad team.)
The full breakdown is here, including disassembling the classic "that line was a collective minus-13" trope.
Quote of the Night
Good night for Kulemin to be the featured player in the program, with his two goals.
Q: Who was your favorite player growing up?
A: Mikhail Grabovski (laughs).
This Recap is Late. We Were Busy.
For those of us behind the content at Lighthouse Hockey, this afternoon was a summit of sorts, as for the first time nine of us were at the game together. Normally such a gathering of is frowned upon by the Secret Service as a national security risk. So McNally and HockeyGoalieEh fell on their swords by staying away. (In truth, they were at their REAL jobs, because their employers don't respect MLK Day.
Anyway, we had a blast, and got to meet some readers and regular commenters as well as one Rush-loving Isles beatwriter. For me at what could be my last game at the Coliseum, it was another humbling reminder of how people have embraced this site and made it their own: a fun, occasionally coherent way to enjoy the Islanders together, whether in pixel form or in person. I can't thank every one of you who writes, posts and/or reads for that.
Dan will have more on that experience as part of his season-long "Last Call at Nassau" series. But a few thoughts on perhaps my final visit:
- I don't want it to be my last game here for obvious reasons. But also: because of the expected win and the LHH crew, it felt like a party, whereas I think it's only proper that my final game have the intensity of a game with stakes...like say a playoff game.
- On that note, 329 was leading cheers and chants -- impressive vocal chords from that crew -- but otherwise the game did have a bit more of that afternoon cakewalk feel, probably in part because the Isles so quickly opened a lead they never relinquished.
- Fun to see the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" in person. Organic fan things are the best fan things.
- I love the barn feel, but today was the first visit where my back truly "felt" the old seats, like the worn-out cushions of an old office chair you've left in the basement. It's all about the atmosphere ultimately, but a little leg room and breathing room in the concourses will be welcome after the move.
- I'm also under the weather, which makes me more wimpy and lethargic in general, so.
- Mark and I went to a Flyers game at the Coliseum a few years ago during an ugly December swoon, when Flyers fans were plentiful and vocal. Today, fun to not have that be a worry at all.
There is still nothing like the Coliseum. Only a few, hopefully victorious months left to enjoy.