There will be a Game Seven and Nassau Coliseum may live to see another day.
The New York Islanders forced a deciding game with the Washington Capitals, and kept the Coliseum open a little longer, with a 3-1 win on Saturday afternoon in Game Six.
“Our season is over if we don’t win,” John Tavares said. “We knew we had to win and that’s all it comes down to. You want to play hard every home game and we didn’t want to leave anything out there. We got an opportunity.”
Game Six wasn’t for the faint of heart, as the Islanders and Capitals played a grinding, physical, punch-for-punch contest full of tension, emotion and ultimately euphoria for the Islanders. Nikolay Kulemin’s game-winner featured all of it. With Tavares slow to get up after being hit from behind by Alex Ovechkin, Nick Leddy fed a wide-open Kulemin in the slot and Kulemin outwaited Braden Holtby, sliding in the winning goal at 10:33 of the third.
“I just tried to get to the net and I got hit there,” Tavares said. “The puck popped out because two guys were on me. Nick Leddy had time and fed Kule. Kule made a nice move.”
The goal sent the Coliseum into frenzy, but with 9:27 to play, there was time for more drama in what’s been a tight, back-and-forth series. The Capitals had their chances, none were closer than Jay Beagle’s shot off the crossbar with 5:33 to play. Thankfully for the 16,170 in attendance, puck luck was on the Islanders side. Cal Clutterbuck scored an empty netter with 52.6 seconds to play, icing the contest.
“I thought we played a complete game,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “All four lines contributed. I thought [Matt] Donovan and [Scott] Mayfield played a tremendous game and your best players have to be your best players. It starts in goal and I thought Jaro made some big saves for us.”
The do-or-die tilt called for a big game from the Islanders top players and they delivered. Tavares scored the opening goal, Nick Leddy (28:59) and Johnny Boychuk (27:00) played big minutes and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves.
Donovan and Mayfield both played their first-career playoff games, filling in as the Islanders were without three of their six regular defensemen. Donovan saw time on the second power-play unit, while Mayfield brought a physical edge, along with a 6’5, 218 lbs. frame.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [nervous],” Mayfield said. “It was pretty special, just seeing the atmosphere and being thrown right into it. This was probably the best game I’ve ever played in.”
Colin McDonald also saw his first game this series, playing on a line with Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.
The Islanders played a hard first period, outhitting the Capitals 25-12 and opened up a 1-0 lead early on. Brock Nelson went to the net and Tavares used the screen to beat Holtby with a wrister at 6:56. The Islanders got into penalty trouble in the back half of the frame, taking three penalties in the last seven minutes of the period. They killed the first two, but allowed a power-play goal with 4.3 seconds to play, as John Carlson tied the score with a wrist shot through traffic.
“We battled hard for 60 minutes,” Frans Nielsen said. “We got in front of Holtby and made it tough on him tonight, so we have to bring the same effort next game.”
And there will be a next game, Monday night in Washington.