It was entirely understandable to think the Islanders’ charmed final run at Nassau Coliseum was about to end shortly after the midway point of the second period Wednesday night, when Anthony Cirelli’s goal gave the Lightning a two-goal lead in Game 6 and 12 unanswered goals dating back to the third period of Game 4.
But like the building they’ve called home for most of the past 49 years and the area they represent, the Islanders just will not go quietly.
Anthony Beauvillier’s goal just 1:08 into overtime capped a stirring comeback for the Islanders, who at least temporarily staved off the closing of Nassau Coliseum and forced Game 7 against the Lightning with a 3-2 win.
“The message the whole day was just give ourselves a chance,” said Islanders center Jordan Eberle, who started the comeback by scoring fewer than two minutes after Cirelli’s goal.
Scott Mayfield whipped the crowd into a frenzy by tying the score with 8:44 left in regulation before Beauvillier’s unassisted goal — created when he stole the puck from Blake Coleman, whose chippy play throughout the series has turned him into the second-most popular target for derision at the Coliseum behind Lightning star Steven Stamkos — unleashed one of the greatest spontaneous bursts of joy ever experienced in a sporting venue.
“Kind of blacked out,” said Beauvillier, who slid on his knees before being swallowed up by teammates. “Was just so happy. Was screaming and everyone kind of jumped on me. Amazing feeling.”
The celebration on the ice paled in comparison to what happened within the raucous sellout crowd of 12,978. As the Islanders mobbed Beauvillier, fans began throwing towels, hats and beer cans — so, so, so many beer cans — on to the ice. The scoreboard showed at least one fan stripping off his shirt and screaming in the deafening din.
“That building, coming into work tonight, was smelling like cigarettes,” Beauvillier said. “And now it smells like beer.”
It was rowdy, cathartic and filled with id — a perfect celebration for a no-frills, no-nonsense building that has long mirrored the Island on which it resides. So how perfect is it that this final run at the Coliseum — a final FINAL run, not that fake final run in 2015 — has a team whose resiliency and doggedness embodies the place in which it plays?
The Islanders haven’t led following the first period in any of their 18 playoff games and have been outshot 637-523 while absorbing multiple extended flurries from the opposition even before Games 4 and 5.
The Islanders, who led 3-0 after two periods in Saturday’s Game 4, gave up two goals in the third and dodged overtime thanks to Ryan Pulock, who slid across the open net and deflected Ryan McDonagh’s shot just before time expired. On Monday night, the Lightning rolled to an 8-0 rout that was the most lopsided playoff result since 2001.
But the Islanders just keep coming — back from a 2-0 deficit Wednesday and that scoreless streak of 116 minutes and 25 seconds, all the way into Game 7 Friday night with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1984, when the Islanders’ run of four straight championships ended with a sweep at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.
“You have a vision of how this series will go — it never plays out the way you think it will, it just doesn’t,” Barry Trotz said. “But that’s the magic of playoff hockey and the advantage of being in the moment. The moment’s right in front of you all the time.”
Since the final embers of the dynasty were extinguished in the late ‘80s, the four-time champions have been the standard to which subsequent Islanders teams have been held, even as the franchise became an NHL laughingstock and two generations of fans came of age without ever experiencing sustained success by their favorite team.
The euphoric celebration Wednesday night is the closest so many at the Coliseum— and the many thousands of more watching at home — have to their own May 24, 1980, when Bobby Nystrom ensured the numbers 7:11 do not refer to convenience stores on Long Island by scoring the overtime goal against the Flyers to give the Islanders their first championship.
And who knows? For these Islanders, and the islanders, perhaps another celebration is coming.
“These are great moments — going off the ice and there’s everybody hugging each other, there’s beer flying all over, it’s quite a sight and it was a moment that you’ll remember,” Trotz said. “These are big moments and great memories to have.
“But we’ve got to get another one.”