- Brad Penner-USA Today Sports
After being shut out by the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 5, the New York Islanders returned home to the Nassau Coliseum for a must win. However, even if they come up short, this season will forever be remembered as the year when they finally turned the corner.
The Islanders have long been the doormat of the NHL. Yet, this year, they ended with a winning record, going 24-17-7 in the 48-game quickie after another long lockout. Instead of being a bottom feeder in the Atlantic Division, the club finished third. It has also been quite awhile since an Islander has been in contention for a major award.
Twenty-two-year old John Tavares found out on Friday from assistant coach Doug Weight that he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the leagues most valuable player. Tavares finds himself in some pretty esteemed company. The other two who are in the running are Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Penguins.
“I was shocked,” Tavares said in an interview on nytimes.com. “It’s a tremendous honor. I’m glad to be recognized, but it’s more about our team and what we’ve accomplished this year.”
Tavares was the first overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft and he has steadily been becoming a force for the Islanders on and off the ice. The Canadian also serves as an alternate captain, showing leadership on and off the ice at a young age.
During the lockout, Tavares played in Switzerland, which may have been why he opened the season on a tear, finishing the year with 28 goals and 19 assists for 47 points.
Tonight’s win or go-home game, started quickly for the Islanders with Tavares notching his third goal of the playoffs. Though the contest was like the series, back and forth between the two teams. Colin McDonald sent the Islanders to the locker room with the lead on a goal near the end of the first.
Both teams would trade goals in the second, but it was the underdogs who grabbed the all-important lead in the third with Michael Grabner capitalizing on a mistake by Penguins goalie, Tomas Volkoun.
A packed house in the Coliseum was on pins and needles wondering if the Islanders were going to hang on when Paul Martin tied it up with about five minutes left in regulation.
It was off to overtime again. Two of the games have been decided in the extra period with each team taking one. For the Islanders, an upset was not to be. Their Cinderella season came to a quick end on a Brook Orpik goal. The ride ended abruptly with the carriage turning back into a pumpkin, but the Islander’s future looks bright so fans better get their shades for next year!