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Lightning 6 (EN), Islanders 4: Zdeno Chara scores in what could be his last ride

The Isles blew a lead and concede a hat trick to Steven Stamkos, while fans and the visitors salute a Hall of Famer.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Islanders
It’s the little things.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Islanders blew a third-period 3-1 lead and were beaten by the Tampa Bay Lightning in their final game for the third straight season, but the legacy of the night may end up being a loving send-off to Slovakian legend Zdeno Chara in what could be his final NHL game.

Chara, an original Islanders draftee who returned this season to cap a Hall of Fame career spent mostly elsewhere, logged 19:24 of ice time and was cheered on by the UBS Arena crowd at each hint of an offensive chance.

They finally got their wish late in the third as Chara scored his 209th regular season goal on a point shot with just 44 seconds left to go, sending the crowd into chants of “CHAR-A! CHAR-A!”

Those chants continued after the game, and the Lightning players and staff lined up to shake his hand and wish him well after the final horn. But the 45-year-old said he’s made no decision on his future.

[NHL Gamecenter | Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

Other notes:

  • Things were shaping up for a nice end to an otherwise lost season, with a home-and-home sweep of the Capitals followed by a win over the annual nemesis Lightning. But the Isles coughed up that 3-1 lead in the third, fed by some unsightly defensive gaffes.
  • Robin Salo — whose confidence with the puck is a little above his station at this point — played with the puck too long at the Isles blueline to lead to the go-ahead goal.
  • Then after Josh Bailey was robbed on a golden chance to re-tie the game, Noah Dobosn ran into Bailey coming out of the Isles zone, leading enabling a turnover and Steven Stamkos’ second goal of the night.
  • With just over two minutes left Stamkos added an insurance goal for a hat trick, on another counterattack where Bailey didn’t follow Stamkos all the way to the net as he received a great pass from Ondrej Palat.
  • Down 5-3 at that point, Chara pulled the Isles back within one but then the Lightning scored quickly on the empty net to remove any drama.
  • Brock Nelson was kept off the scoresheet and Mathew Barzal notched one assist, so those two finish the season tied for the team lead at 59 points. Nelson gets the tiebreaker with more than twice as many goals.
  • Dobson notched two more assists to bring his season points total to 53 — making him the team’s third-highest scorer in 2021-22 by a six-point margin over the captain.
  • In between “CHAR-A!” chants, as the Isles saluted the fans and headed off the ice they were met with a spontaneous shift to full-throated “Let’s Go Isl-an-ders!” chants, and that gets me every time. This fanbase can be hash, it can be soap operatic, but damn it has a collective sense of when to pause and rally, and remind players that ultimately everyone is in it to lift the team up together.

Is this the end for Chara? It’s not clear. At his age, you probably take it month by month anyway. In the post-game interview with Shannon Hogan, he took considerable time to first thank the fans and commend them for their support, before saying it’s too bad they couldn’t get them the win. Then Hogan, ever the humanist pro, let him leave it at that and go enjoy the moment rather than press him for a “will you be back?” line.

As the Dust Settles...

So what’s next? A massive offseason for the Islanders, who have an aging core that they at least verbally sound very committed to, with a management and coaching staff that is much more inclined to lean on such a core. It’s not that it can’t work, but it’s a thin margin while the league continues to trend toward youth and, perhaps, more dynamically offensive approaches.

No doubt that narrative on what works will continue to evolve depending on who goes far in this year’s playoffs.

Speaking of which, we’ll have posts on the NHL playoffs as we return to what once was routine but has been unfamiliar the last few years: Gawking at the playoffs from the sidelines.

We’ll also get into report cards, draft and free agency coverage and the like. We don’t say it enough, but this is a good time to say THANK YOU to all our readers, commenters, tweeters, and writers/podcasters. I should probably stop counting how many years the community and contributors to Lighthouse Hockey have made following the Islanders that much more fun.

Through good times and bad, conference final runs and lottery landings.

Next Up

Well that’s it for the big club. But next we’ll look forward to playoff coverage, the draft lottery May 10, the draft and free agency this summer. And Bridgeport is in the playoffs, at least for a little while. Good luck to the Baby Isles.