The atmosphere was festive, the crowd was electric, and the eyes were anything but dry. The New York Islanders finished the regular season history of the only arena they've ever called home with a loss in a tiebreaker contest that no one could have imagined when Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum opened.
There was no overtime, no shootout, and no fourth round of the playoffs back in 1972, so it seemed befitting the modern era of the NHL that the Coliseum's finale would end in a deflating shootout with the fanciest shooters in the "fastest game on ice" approaching goalies at approximately five miles per hour.
The Islanders twice grabbed third-period leads leads, including their final one with just over four minutes to go for what looked like a poetic finish. Instead, they gave up an equalizer with 1:35 to go, forcing overtime and leading to a 5-4 shootout win for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Jackets finish 2014-15 on a 12-0-1 run, including two costly shootout wins over the Isles. The Isles finish tied with the Washington Capitals at 101 points and 40 regulation + overtime wins, but a point shy in the head-to-head tiebreaker. They'll begin the playoffs on the road, in D.C. on Wednesday night.
- They weren't prey to the jitters nor gravity of the moment. They came out steady and poured on pressure, outshooting the Blue Jackets 52-37 overall. Curtis McElhinney was big, and stopped multiple Isles breakaways, including a couple from John Tavares that, in retrospect, would have won him a major trophy.
- They opened the third period with a surge, scoring twice in the period's first four minutes with goals from their omega and alpha: Eric Boulton and then John Tavares.
- Some of their most worrisome traits reappeared: Goals late in periods (10 seconds left in the first, and 1:35 left facing a sixth attacker in the third), and third-period leads lost. They were up 3-1 (then gave up a fluke goal and a poor-coverage goal) and 4-3 in the third, but the final score reads a 5*-4 loss.
- Oh, on the worrisome front, the symbolic moment of the night capturing all our angst: Brian Strait sending a where-was-that? pass while wiping out in the neutral zone, leaving Calvin de Haan to defend the resulting 2-on-1. De Haan had been scratched the last six games in favor of Strait, a decision few understand.
- When Nikolay Kulemin slammed home the go-ahead goal with his 15th of the season, who didn't think the hockey gods would give the Isles and the Coliseum this moment? The Blue Jackets, that's who. The tying goal by sixth attacker Scott Hartnell and the Isles' failure to win it in OT or shootout cost them home ice in the first round.
- With a goal and assist, Tavares put himself in position to win the Art Ross trophy with 86 points...until Jame Benn ruined the party with a third-period blitz over the Predators. Benn finished a four-point night with an empty net goal and extremely late assist to give him 87 points. (Without that one, Tavares would have won the tiebreaker.)
In the books and short of the mission, this game already means little now.
The captain, who was robbed on a first-period breakaway but scored on a deadly snipe in the third period, summed it up in post-game footage:
"It's disappointing ... The way the crowd was today was incredible. We felt the urgency. I thought we brought that. We had the opportunity in front of us, but didn't capitalize. You just have to get over it. It's a new season now."
Coach Jack Capuano spoke of dictating the pace -- indeed, in many ways tonight's effort was more indicative of the caliber of Isles squad we saw before a rough final month -- plus health evaluations and lineup decisions for Game 1.
Travis Hamonic did not play and there has been no disclosure on his injury. Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin were also out but have been skating and are assumed to be ready for Game 1 against the Capitals on Wednesday. Casey Cizikas took a sketchy hit from Jack Johnson that sent him to the locker room, though he did return. Butch Goring openly speculated on the MSG broadcast that Michael Grabner -- a frequent recent scratch -- could be playing hurt.
Memories and Salutations?
That said, while the playoffs will tie up our attention with, well, playoffs, tonight was a significant moment bearing reflection. Were you there? Do you have tales to share, more tears to shed? Let us know in comments. (Playoff talk can go in the next thread.)