Two years ago, the New York Islanders did something they hadn't done in 27 years - advance to the Conference Finals. It happened in a Game 7, in a series where the Islanders had lost three games in overtime and were on the verge of blowing a 3-1 series lead. It happened with a backup goaltender in net, and in the bizarre atmosphere of the Toronto bubble.
And it is not talked about nearly enough.
The Game 7 Islanders fans don't talk about nearly enough two years later
Perhaps it's because of all that happened since, the loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Edmonton that followed, the shortened 56-game season that saw the Isles lose their captain to injury, make another deadline deal, and then pick back up where they left off the summer before - but this time with a raucous Nassau Coliseum behind them in the building's final season.
But at that moment, as an Isles fan too young to recall the dynasty but old enough to recall the emotions of the magical 1993 run to the Wales Conference Finals, the 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers meant so damn much.
Do you remember who scored the first goal in that game? It was Scott Mayfield, in a goal that has similarities to the one he would score against the Lightning in Game 6 at the Coliseum a year later. "Just kind of down the past couple of days," Mayfield said after the game. "It's a confidence boost. Game-winner, Game 7 to go to the Eastern Conference finals, I don't think I'd be scoring it. But I had a lane, just happy I could put it away."
The second goal of the game was scored by Andy Greene. The veteran scored just three goals in 134 regular-season games with the Islanders, but this one gave them control over the game they would never relinquish. They outshot Philadelphia 26-16, demonstrating resilience after the momentum of the series turned after suffering two consecutive sudden-death losses when one goal would have sent them onto the next round.
"I liked the fact that we recognized when we're at our best. And when we're at our best, there's always a sharp focus, "It's the commitment. If you need to block a shot, you block a shot. Don't go halfway in, be all in."- Barry Trotz
The Islanders were at their suffocating, defensive best in this game, with backup Thomas Greiss earning the shutout after being named the starter for Game 7 after Seymon Varlamov allowed five goals in Game 6. Brock Nelson extended the lead to 3-0 midway through the second period, and Anthony Beauvillier put the game out of reach at 13:42 of the third.
A Long Time Coming
The team was different, but not too different, from their last Game 7, back in 2015 when Jack Capuano's group faced off with Trotz's Washington Capitals. That night, the Islanders had only generated a meager 11 shots on goal but somehow found themselves tied 1-1 in the 3rd period until Evgeny Kuznetsov beat Jaroslav Halak at the 12:42 mark.
"I'm sure everybody remembers that day. It wasn't our best game, and it's always tough losing a Game 7," Brock Nelson said after the shutout win. "And getting this one tonight definitely feels good." Prior to that loss, the only prior Game 7 the Islanders had played since 1993 was against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002. That series loss, highlighted by Shawn Bates' penalty shot and Eric Cairns' pummeling of Shayne Corson, is reminisced about more than the series win vs. the Flyers.
Like the team 27 years ago, the Islanders weren't supposed to make it this far after fading down the Eastern Conference standings when the season was paused in March. But in most unusual circumstances, couped up in a hotel room and playing in a near-empty arena, the team-first group, rediscovered their identity and winning formula to defeat the Florida Panthers in the opening round and then the favored high-powered Capitals in five games.
The Islanders had won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years back in 2016 vs. the Florida Panthers, thanks to the heroics of John Tavares, and while that ended one remarkably long drought of playoff success, not reaching a Conference Final was another franchise stigma to overcome, and Greiss found himself between the pipes for both.
So on the two-year anniversary of the Islanders advancing to a round they hadn't since David Volek's OT goal sent home the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, let's pause and reflect on the organization's only Game 7 win since as well.
Great moments followed, Jordan Eberle's Game 5 2OT winner to keep the dream alive, followed by memorable playoff series wins against the Penguins and Boston Bruins and the Coliseum closing OT winner by Beauvillier in Game 6. But this game should have its own special place.
It didn't have a dramatic moment, it didn't need one. The Islanders played a perfect game against a division rival in Game 7 and confidently punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.
You might not be able to recall all the highlights of that game like you do others, but you can probably summon back how it made you feel. That's because, for many of us, it was something we had never seen before. It forever cemented that group, and that playoff run, into our orange and blue hearts, the same way the 1993 team for a whole generation nearly three decades earlier.