The New York Islanders' second-round playoff series begins shockingly quickly -- like, while the first round is still going on quickly -- so the team is already cramming to prepare for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But since their first-round 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers represents such a milestone, or a major hurdle cleared for longtime fans, we wanted to take one more moment to reflect. A lot of years, a lot of losses, a lot of tempered memories (e.g. a penalty shot goal in a series the Isles lost was one of the major highlights between 1993 and 2016) characterize the time spent following this franchise.
I launched Lighthouse Hockey in 2008 -- in a bit of personal irony, the first posts on SB Nation coincided with the death of my father, whose admiration for Al Arbour steered me toward this team back before I knew losing in the playoffs was even possible.
Several writers, editors, enforcers and idea-sharers have been with the site for much of that time, each one doing things you may not know helped keep it afloat. Here's an edited version of the thoughts we shared with each other after John Tavares scored in double overtime to send the Isles to a place they hadn't been since Arbour was still behind the bench.
Thanks again to everyone who shared their celebration stories with us the other day. (If you haven't read them in comments, they are full of gems.)
Chris McNally, brooding teen in 1993
I was a teen when David Volek scored that overtime goal to beat the Penguins. I remember where, when, who, and how excited I was. It was the first hockey game I remember watching with my father (he was more of a baseball fan at the time.) But last night's goal was something more. Volek found himself in the right place at the right time. John Tavares wasn't going to stop until he carried his team to the next round. He didn't shoot the puck into the net. He made sure that it found the back of the net by any means necessary. And when it happened, I went numb.
Numb for a good half hour. I mean, I was still tweeting away, but I couldn't move from where I was. I was so happy that I couldn't even express it. It felt just like 1993 all over again.
It wasn't until I heard Travis Hamonic's interview that I realized that it was nothing like 1993. Hamonic was so emotional that he was trying not to break down in tears when he spoke. Every time he mentioned the fans, his voice cracked like a 13 year old boy. That's when I realized that 1993 was a group of guys for the most part that was put together through trades. The 2016 version of this team featured a whole lot of guys who endured a whole lot of pain and misery on the ice to get to this point. And the best of them realized that we the fans had endured it with them. They were as happy for us as they were themselves.
When I heard Hamonic's interview I was able to move again. Because I felt that I, some schlep on the couch, was part of something special. That's what I got out of this series win. It doesn't matter how we got here, the bad stretches, the silly lineup moves, the supposed tank. It just mattered that I was part of an Islanders playoff series win. And I'll remember it just as well as I remember that day back in 1993.
Michael Leboff, age 3 last time Isles were in 2d round
Seeing John Tavares jump in the air wearing an Islander jersey turned my mind into an intersection of emotions. Tears just naturally poured down my face. They haven't stopped, really.
After the hands were shook and the Yes!'s were screamed, thoughts of exiting the Coliseum in the dark years came through my mind. Leaving after meaningless losses and dealing with month-long, season-ending losing streaks and wondering when, or if ever, this becomes worth it. That old cliche "You can't appreciate the highs without the lows" is one thing, but when you get dealt low after low for as long as we have, to finally be able to roll that all up and release it together, unexplainable.
Catharsis gave way to disbelief and an unfamiliar feeling. I kept having to remind myself: We get to play more. We get to play more! Which, honestly, is the best part. It feels so right that this is the team to end our slump.
I think one reason fans, media, etc. were so down on the team this season, despite their record, was that we all know that this is the last ride for some of our favorite players and we want them to ride off into a sunset. Seeing Frans Nielsen, Travis Hamonic, Kyle Okposo, and John Tavares finally get to celebrate together, you can't help but feel they know exactly how the way we are feeling right now. The connection these guys have with the fanbase and the organization - you can feel it from those guys.
I haven't come to grips with this whole experience yet, but just knowing that we get to see these guys continue to play together for at least a few more games, it hits me in the depths of my blue and orange soul. Who wouldn't want to be an Islander fan right now?
MikeB, jaded Dynasty fan
I was jaded growing up as a Dynasty Fan.
So easy to forget 1979 and assume Cups would continue forever. So simple to assume that, as Potvin begat Morrow, as they added Brent Sutter and Pat LaFontaine to already-stacked teams, as they won the Easter Epic and slayed the Pens, that it would just keep going.
This even spread to other teams. I *knew* the Mets would win Game Six in '86, for example. Don't ask why or how, I really did. Not *hoped* or *oh please somehow* but knew. I knew the Giants were beating the Broncos even when they trailed at the half, knew they'd beat the Bills despite trailing at the half (Hoss not fumbling when Bruce Smith grabbed his ball-carrying hand by the wrist, geez).
That's why it's so hard to describe what the Turgeon-for-Muller trade was like. All Milbury's insanity was built on that wretched foundation. So many bad decisions, but that deal was out of the clear blue... a complete needle scratch. The instant I heard it I thought, "The Islanders don't do this. We aren't run by idiots. We got screwed." It was incomprehensible.
But even then, for it to last 20 years, to watch the incomprehensible become routine as the Isles devolved into the laughingstock of the late '90s... to see the heartbreak of '02 and the overmatched rebuild teams. Only hope gets you through. And suffering the Pens and Caps losses just makes this sweeter.
When Volek scored my best college bud and I went crazy. I dumped a soda down my brand-new home white jersey. It's still got a bit of the stain. This was a hundred times better.
I read all the comments from younger fans who don't remember Volek's goal or who weren't even born yet, and my heart is happy to see this for them. They had to go through all the slop and the fraudulent owners and Areener drama and on-ice misery with nothing but the old tales... and they still hoped, and now it's happening. And maybe for the first time I can appreciate this more and not take it for granted like I did as a boy.
Dominik, having a good week
This series reinforced for me how brutally difficult and savage the playoffs are -- and these teams didn't even try to kill each other like some of the other Eastern series. (Or like last time the Isles won, when the world's sorest loser took out our franchise star after everything was already decided.) I think Florida outplayed the Isles overall, and their top six are terrifying (I keep using that word, but it's how I feel when Jagr and Barkov are on the ice), yet they lost four games to two. If that's what you get when winning your division and playing a wild card team, it's a wonder any team ever survives four rounds.
Whatever happens afterward, and the Isles are due for major changes in the offseason, I'm thrilled and relieved they got over this hump. With "AL" on their shoulders. With Tavares leading the way. With a "career backup" giving them a chance. With Thomas Hickey being a beast.
I've had two kids in the last few years and as people buy them Isles gear I keep thinking of that line, "The Cubs killed my father, and now they're coming for me." I only remember the tail end of the dynasty -- the first half was just assumed history that this is always how things were and would be. Following this team all these years from long distance, over ever-changing national TV contracts and The Hockey News and every publication Stan Fischler would write for, has made me quip to my father what the hell did he get me into?
Yet there I was holding my 8-month old during the overtime winner three times during this series. I think he's gonna be okay. (He's got Blues gear too, just in case.)
Blues and Isles both advance. Someone’s looking out for them. pic.twitter.com/cDpLZ5CyGN— Picked My Stuff Up (@Schultz88) April 26, 2016
Garik16, young pup
You all are old.
Mike Levak (ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles), LHH elder
All I keep thinking is, "Thank Bossy we're in the Atlantic bracket." I see what the Metro teams are doing to each other physically, with two handed slashes to the neck/face, flying elbows, and other WWE moves, and we get to -- you know -- PLAY HOCKEY instead. The Isles were built for playing hockey. Their construction was premised on more penalties being called to allow the teams with talent to separate themselves from those with less talent and more goons.
And then the NHL started letting teams get away with all these so-called hockey plays during the playoffs again. But I digress. That's a different discussion for a different day.
For now, the Isles continue to play teams with actual talent. Let the chips fall where they may, and should the Isles move on, hopefully it will be against a depleted Metro champ, because apparently that's what the NHL wants.
Meanwhile, I hear that the Panthers' PDO was a bit higher than the Isles, and they also (obviously) had more possession over the full series.
Does. Not. Compute.
Well, it probably means that a disproportionate number of Florida shots missed the target or were blocked. But still, it's mind blowing that that happened.
As for personal feelings, I was 19 when they last won a series, so everyone talking about bad karma (what the hell do you think we had the last few decades? Karma couldn't have possibly gotten any worse!), riding a hot goalie (or what the media calls "a good hockey team" when that team happens to play one borough over), or the refs swallowing their whistles in OT (because they don't usually do that?!) can kiss my Avery.
Fun fact: when you're staying at your parents house (as your home purchase is being finalized), and you have sleeping parents, wife, and baby all within shouting range, you really shouldn't watch OT hockey. When JT scored and I had to try to celebrate silently, I think my head looked like what happens when siamese elephants are attached by the trunk, and one sneezes. My head was the recipient of the sneeze (eyes bugged out, snot bubbles everywhere, tongue temporarily swallowed down the throat).
But man that was satisfying.
Could Chris King do the play by play on MSNBCSN+?
Garik16, WATCHING THE GAME
I was 6 when David Volek won the Isles last playoff series. In fact, that's my first memory of watching an Islander game. And you know how well we really remember memories from when you're six -- barely at all. So this has some special meaning to me -- the first series win I can remember truly as being a fully committed fan who knew what I was doing.
People have asked me if I would enjoy a series win where the Isles got outplayed as they did in games 1-5, where the Isles were lucking their way to victory. The answer, as my dog could attest from how I scared her shouting at Tavares' Wraparound of Victory, is most definitely yes.
I always root for my team to win, even if they aren't playing well, and the last two playoff series where Isles outplayed Pens and Caps but still fell has always made me feel like "why can't we get the god puck luck?" Well, now we did.
That isn't to say there isn't a large part of me negative about our further chances and about certain management and coaching staff getting rewarded for bad process. There's even a part of me sad that we did this to Florida -- easily the most likable of our last three playoff opponents.
But hell, the Isles got puck luck in the playoffs, have John Tavares still in his prime and a bunch of other guys I've loved for years. Time to roll natural 20s 12 more times. (Sorry couldn't help myself.)
David Hanssen, former LHH prospect hound, family rebel
The last time the Islanders won a playoff series I was 10, and I was still a Rangers fan yet to rebel against my father's fandom... So really the highlight for me prior to this was the 2001-2002 season and Shawn Bates' penalty shot, Peca getting kneecapped and the eventual disappointment of losing the series.
So this season honestly has been a bit weird. I haven't payed much attention, even this series I've been distracted by other things (Prince dying, I know for you all it might not mean much but here in Minnesota it's been full on state-wide mourning period with no end in sight). In August I began dating the woman who has become the love of my life but she lives 1,000 miles away and long distance takes a whole lot more effort than I was expecting. Since the fall the congregation I serve has been dealing with major financial issues and my job security has been a major issue since.
Frankly life has taken over and being so far away from New York (and craptastic rural internet) has made watching and following games difficult as well. Hell for the former prospect guy half of the roster has me scratching my head going "Who?!"
Yet I found myself running around the living room Sunday night screaming and jumping and screaming when Tavares scored the goal. I couldn't help myself. I can't help being so happy today.
Michael Willhoft, currently unverified by Twitter
It's not that I didn't hope they'd win. It's that I didn't think they'd win.
There's a difference there, and it's one that's built on 23 years of wondering whether The Second Round was actually a euphemism instead of a real place where good hockey teams go to play more postseason hockey. In the end, I'm happy they won, but you'll forgive me if I'm not really sure what to do with my hands, since I've never held them over my head in celebration of this team for 24 consecutive hours before last night (and today).
Getting outplayed by a big, young, fast, division-winning team to the point where you only lead for 0.019% of the series in total - or something like that, I'm not a numbers guy - isn't a recipe for prolonged playoff success, but I've finally come to the realization that it doesn't matter how long you lead, it only matters that you're the first team to collect four wins. (Also, it's not how fast you mow, it's how well you mow fast.)
I'm confused, really. Happy, elated, ecstatic, relieved, kind of hungry(?)...but also confused. What happens next? Where do we go from here? "House money" has never been a term that's applied to the New York Hockey Islanders in the context in which I've known them, what with the Stanley Cups being won in ancient times and me being one of those millennials with those dang smart phones and the stupid Tweeter account.
It's funny how one goal in double overtime of the fourth game of a series in which you were sure the outcome had been preordained (read: a loss, absolutely a loss) can change your entire perspective on what's possible for this team, though. Watching the Islanders now kind of feels like standing at a craps table in the casino, firing away with black and purple and yellow chips, buying numbers, maxing out your odds, hitting points, and only rolling sevens on the come outs. (Seriously, where did all these chips come from? How long have I been at this table? Why am I high-fiving and hugging everyone, including the dealers?)
Do I think the Isles will advance to the Eastern Conference Final? Or to the? Or to a victory parade on a route that stretches the 30 miles or so from Barclays Center to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum? No, I don't think any of that will happen this year. But that doesn't mean I don't hope it will.
Sometimes it's good to be lucky. Just ask these Islanders.
Dan Saraceni, still @cultureoflosing because never forget
What Sunday means to me:
- Moving on from 1993. Great era, time to let it go.
- No more concerns about the crowds/noise at Barclays Center. The place was loud. People showed up. Time to let it go.
- No more concerns about whether this core was good enough. They got the job done when it counted. That's all we can ask for.
- John Tavares cements his status as one of the greatest Islanders and a marquee name in New York sports. If you're not on a bandwagon by now, you're missing out.
- For the first time since the early 2000's, the Islanders keep playing after the Rangers go home.
- That after all that, Tavares, Hamonic, Okposo and others said they were happiest for the fans, who they know wanted it so badly. It might just be PR spin, but think about it for a minute. All that bitching and moaning and crying and complaining we all do all day week after week month after month year after endless year was heard. They knew. They felt it. They wanted it as much as we wanted them to do it. It hasn't always been fun rooting for this team, but that kind of extended time together during the high times and the low put us all - player, coach, management, broadcaster, fan - on the same wavelength. That is profound. I've been reading the quotes all day and I still can't believe they said them:
"Obviously, there's still a long way to go, but they've deserved it," he said of the people who were ecstatically cheering. "They've waited, they've been through some tough times. To be part of that is a good feeling right now."
7. Now it's time to go into Tampa and come out with some wins.