By Steve Mears, Islanders radio play-by-play announcer
Part II: Games 1 - 5
This week, the countdown of my ten best games from the 2006-2007 Islanders season continues. Here are the Top Five:
#5 - December 3: Islanders 7 @ Rangers 4
This season's first "Battle of New York" featured one of the best individual performances of any player in the NHL this year. The game started with the Isles stunning the Rangers faithful at Madison Square Garden with a four-goal first period and an early 4-0 lead. But the Blueshirts battled back to make it a one-goal game on two separate occasions, only to have their comeback efforts squashed by Viktor Kozlov. The big winger became the first Islander to score four goals in a game since March of 2003, and was the only player in the NHL to accomplish the feat this season. More importantly, it started the Islanders' four-game winning streak versus the Rangers to begin a very memorable season series.
#4 - October 11: Islanders 5 @ Anaheim 4 (SO)
After so many great games and moments this year, it's easy to forget this early one. This game was the very first Islanders win of the season, the first win of the Ted Nolan era, and it came against the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks. The Islanders actually built a 3-1 lead in the second period, but gave up three straight goals and fell behind by one late in the third. Alexei Yashin tied the game with four minutes left in regulation and the Islanders eventually won in a six-round shootout with goals from Viktor Kozlov and Mike York. Mike Dunham made 46 saves in 65 minutes of play and then five more in the shootout to send the Isles back home with an impressive victory to build on.
#3 - April 3: Islanders 3 vs. Rangers 2 (SO)
You could probably include any of the final four "must-win" games during the Islanders' drive for a playoff berth on this countdown. But this game that started it all stands out for many reasons. It was the eighth and final meeting of the season between the two great New York rivals and indeed, the Islanders' playoff hopes were alive. However, they lost a 2-0 lead and found themselves tied with the Rangers after a scoreless third period and overtime. The Isles would have to win in a shootout and emerging hero Wade Dubielewicz would have to stop three of the best players in the world. With chants of "Du-bie" sounding in a packed Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders netminder stopped Michael Nylander, Brendan Shanahan, and made one final poke check on Jaromir Jagr to begin an incredible run toward a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
#2 - February 19: Islanders 6 vs. Pittsburgh 5
From start to finish, this was the most entertaining game of the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins came into this President's Day matinee with no regulation losses in their previous 16 games and the Islanders were in the middle of a season-long seven game homestand. New York started slow in all three periods as Pittsburgh's Ryan Malone scored goals in the first minute of each frame. After going back and forth with multiple lead changes and with the game tied 5-5 in the final minute of regulation time, Sidney Crosby put on a stick-handling clinic from corner to corner in the Islanders' zone. However, it wasn't enough to fool Trent Hunter who shadowed the league's top scorer with a great defensive effort. Hunter's play and a DiPietro save would spring Mike Sillinger on a two-on-one with Andy Hilbert. Sillinger fired a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for a thrilling game-winning goal with 27 seconds left in regulation. For pure drama and entertainment, this game had it all and was maybe the most exciting game of any played in the NHL this season. Until....
#1 - April 8: Islanders 3 @ New Jersey 2 (SO)
Is there any doubt on this one? Lost in all of the drama of this final regular season game was the rarity of a "win and you're in, lose and your season's over" situation. It hasn't happened often on the last day of an NHL campaign. Everything had fallen into place for the Islanders from the April 3rd win over the Rangers to Toronto defeating Montreal the night before to building a 2-1 lead into the final second of regulation on this memorable afternoon. But New Jersey's John Madden temporarily stopped a lot of hearts with a game-tying goal with 0.9 seconds left on the clock. The rest...truly is history. After an intense overtime, Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov scored in the shootout and Wade Dubielewicz made one last poke check on Sergei Brylin to send the Islanders to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Take your pick on the lasting image: the final save, Ted Nolan celebrating on the bench with his coaching staff, Chris Simon congratulating his teammates as they skated off, or the large group of Islanders fans surrounding the tunnel above. As beat writer Greg Logan said in the opening of his Newsday story, "You can't make this stuff up."
Part I: Games 6 - 10