In the first home game since his death, the New York Islanders did Mike Bossy justice with a moving tribute and a solid performance. But Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov was the man of the hour with the proper Bossy tribute: a hat trick to carry his team to victory, capped by a special Jedi move on the overtime winner.
Barkov scored all three Panthers goals as his team came back to win, 3-2, for the umpteenth time this season. [Full disclosure: I love watching Barkov play, and I hope he and the Panthers go all the way. He and Jonathan Huberdeau are ideal players. If I had to pick an opponent to humble us on a Bossy memorial night, he’s the guy.]
Well done, this. Since we last saw Bossy healthy and being his old thoughtful, honest self, it’s still so jarring to realize he’s gone, but it’s a pleasure to see some of his interviews over the years:
573 goals— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 19, 2022
4 Stanley Cups
Always in our hearts, Mike Bossy. pic.twitter.com/EgdzToCvGU
Damn, I’m going to miss him. I didn’t internalize just how much I lit up inside every time I heard he was coming up on a between-periods interview or other visit. I interviewed him once (part of a publicity tour for prostate cancer screening, ironically), and even amid a multi-interview tour he was thoughtful with some of his responses about the old days and the game today.
I know I’ve harped on this for, well, decades, but I’ll always remember that he didn’t just score 573 in 10 years, he added 85 playoff goals for a total of 658 goals that mattered.
Oh right, the game
On the ice, the Islanders were outshot 42-26, a reflection of the threat posed by the visitors but it was not so lopsided as that. They did have to absorb a shot-heavy first couple of period, as the Panthers started without missing a beat in their ultimately successful effort to extend their win streak to 11. But the Isles largely kept opportunities to the outside, as is their priority.
Still, Ilya Sorokin made 12 saves in the first and 16 in the second period of his fifth consecutive start.
Sebastian Aho opened scoring five minutes into the second period, on a sequence started and finished by the agile defenseman. Aho stretched to disrupt a Panthers clear and keep the puck in at the blueline, then drew a delayed penalty.
Aho got the puck to Kieffer Bellows, who found Andy Greene for a rare pinch down the left side, and Greene found the trailing Aho for a prime shooting opportunity form the slot-side of the right-wing circle.
Midway through the second period, less than 20 seconds after Greene went to the box for crosschecking, Barkov got the Panthers on the board with his first of the night.
The 1-1 tie lasted into the third, when the Isles cashed in quickly on a MacKenzie Weegar — more from him in a moment! — delay of game penalty.
J-G Pageau had the redirection after winning the faceoff:
It didn’t seem like the Islanders ought to hold on to a 2-1 lead against an offensive dynamo like the Panthers, but as the period wore on it looked like it just might happen. They killed a Kieffer Bellows tripping penalty midway through the period. Not long after, Kyle Palmieri got a tough-luck delay of game penalty when he batted a bouncing aerial puck over the glass.
But the Isles got a clear off the ensuing faceoff by Zach Parise, who was interfered with by Weegar at the blueline. Weegar was called for high-sticking — and became enraged because Parise probably sold it. Weegar not only erased the power play, he doubled down by baseball-swinging his stick at the penalty box glass, earning a 10-minute misconduct.
Still, 4-on-4 created an opening that the Panthers cashed in. Some sloppy or fatigued defending kept the Isles hemmed in with the Panthers moving the puck from behind the net to some tight chances in the low slot. Sorokin made a couple of saves, just missed freezing play with a smother attempt from his belly, and then Radko Gudas kicked the puck out of the scrum to Barkov, who left no doubt with his equalizer at 16:02.
The Isles actually got a chance on the very brief power play that resulted after 4-on-4 was over, but that was all.
Overtime was brief. The Panthers trio won the opening faceoff and regrouped after their first rush didn’t create an opportunity. Barkov’s running mate Jonathan Huberdeau (and current NHL points leader at 111) took a feed at the Isles blueline and saucered perfectly to the slot for Barkov to run on to.
Barkov actually didn’t touch the puck but once, when he landed his backhand. But his stick moves before reaching the puck were enough to get Sorokin off balance as the Isles goalie anticipated an earlier shot or deke.
Impressive stuff, and a level of cerebral deception that Bossy would tip his hat to:
SASHA BARKOV AND DON’T YOU EVER FORGET IT pic.twitter.com/8ZVfEeyHdi— x - Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) April 20, 2022
Barry Trotz Post-Game
On the game: “A little sluggish out of the gate...[but] I thought we settled in and kept them to the outside for the most part. ... I liked the way we competed.”
On the Bossy pre-game: “Having some of the footage of Mike just speaking — not necessarily scoring goals — just speaking on what his values were, I thought that was extremely touching. It was very well done. I think there was an emotional response to anybody who had watched Mike play or met, come in contact with him over the years.”
Trotz Postgame Availability pic.twitter.com/o0ilE9o0TX— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 20, 2022
On Thursday the Islanders host the Rangers, who have clinched a [REDACTED], are apparently riding a three-game shutout streak and contending for a division title. What kind of Orwellian upside down world is 2021-22, anyway?