Fans blew the roof off Nassau Coliseum last night in Game 6 as the Islanders advanced to the second round by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, and crushing their soul by an immeasurable score.
It was the first time the Coliseum has hosted a clincher since 1993 — both then and now one of the many years the Islanders sent the Penguins packing in these franchises’ up-and-down playoff histories.
This result just feels right. The only time the Isles have failed to eliminate the Penguins was the year Evgeni Nabokov out-underperformed Marc-Andre Fleury, who himself had an .891 save percentage in the series. In many ways this 2021 first round felt like the opposite of that 2013 series: This time it was the Isles winning two games in overtime (which always makes the loser feel like they were right there if only...). This time it was the Isles ending the series in Game 6 at the Coliseum.
It also feels right in the sense that it has ignited another existential implosion among the fans and media covering that team. In 1993 the star-studded best team of the era was stopped in its bid for a threepeat by a tight, determined lunchpail group (sound familiar?) and they were never the same. In 2019, the Islanders’ sweep ignited much reflection on how to blow up the team or trade a star, if only they could figure out a way.
(Ironically Fleury, who was already gone in 2019, almost blew 2013 — Thomas Vokoun saved the day — and was seen as disposable for playoff inconsistencies, is now seen as Pittsburgh missing hero, having a Vezina season and backstopping a Cup threat in Vegas. And to think, his own agent labeled him betrayed and impaled just last summer.)
So now Ron Hextall and Brian Burke, brought in midseason to chart a more “we can still win with this core” approach, face difficult decisions and a perplexing puzzle. I don’t feel bad for them, or any Penguins, save for Tristan Jarry, no pun intended.
Anyway, there’s no shortage of #reactionporn to gawk at among the Penguins crowd today, and one of my favorite reactions is at the bottom of this post.
But today we bask in the delicious glory of what the Islanders did, and how electric the Coliseum was yet again. The Isles have advanced past the first round every year under Barry Trotz. That kind of consistency has been absent since Al Arbour was behind the bench the first time around.
- Steve had our recap from last night, with highlights, one heckuva Zajac save, and love for team and crowd. [LHH]
- “The playoffs are hard enough and when you have to chase the game, it’s a grind mentally...They just stuck with it. They understand the process, they don’t deviate too much from it. We just find a way to keep on task.” [Isles]
- Reliving Game 6 in photos. [Newsday]
- And in text. [Newsday | Post | Times | NHL]
- The Isles are built for this. [Post]
- That includes Travis Zajac, who stepped into the lineup and made a couple of huge plays, and has been a good soldier as a scratch. “It makes it easier on everybody,” Trotz said. “You’re not going to find a better person than Travis. As I said when I had to tell Travis he wasn’t dressing for the first time in probably 1,000 games, I mean, that’s probably a harder conversation. But he just said, ‘Hey, coach, I’m good.’” [Post]
- Neil Best column: Great to give the Coliseum a fresh special memory. [Newsday]
- It’s a homecoming and a swan song for the Coliseum. [NY Times]
- Mathew Barzal turned 24 yesterday and remains a superstar in progress. [Newsday]
- Already, thoughts turn to the Isles-Bruins series. The Bruins say the Isles are less open, and tougher than the Penguins. [NHL]
- Only a little bit about what the headline sells, but the Varlamov-Sorokin bond is strong. [Post]
- Samuel Bolduc is named to the AHL’s post-season divisional All-Star team. Just three teams in the division this year but another nice nod for a promising prospect. [Bridgeport]
“Lots of history in this building and there’s probably quite a few fans here tonight that witnessed the dynasty back in the ‘80s and what that winning feels like. It was fun to get it done tonight in front of them. This is one step and we’re trying to make some history of our own here.”
- Pensburgh mourns in the recap, and laments one of the league’s top offenses going cold.
- Tristan Jarry was so bad that it may cloud their offseason decision-making. [Trib Live]
- It will be an uncertain offseason, as offseasons often are. [Trib Live]
- You might even call it transformative and boil it down to seven questions. [Post-Gazette]
- Another bad night for Jarry. [Post-Gazette]
- The Penguins know they did a lot of good things, were “more comfortable in close games” this time around vs. 2019. But still... [ESPN]
- My favorite annual column: Sidney Crosby is not in favor of breaking up their core. [Trib Live]
- In other Games 6 last night, the Lightning took the Battle of Florida and eliminated the Panthers, while the Wild dodged elimination again and forced a Game 7 against Vegas.
- From eliminated teams: The Oilers are “massively disappointed.” The Blues say their Cup window remains open. (They’re going to need some major health rebounds from key players for that to be so.) [TSN] But the Oilers hope they’ve seen a path to success. [Sportsnet]
- Robert Morris University’s “strategic course” is to get rid of men’s and women’s hockey programs, which started in 2004 and 2005. [ESPN | RMU statement]
That’s a Lot of Yellow
Finally, of all the Pens angst crossing the interwebs last night, this one may be my favorite, it just kind of captures a lot: