All Elite Wrestling (AEW) continues to make a strong push into what has always been the heart of WWE, announcing a second event near the city on Dec. 8 at the soon-to-be-opening UBS Arena on the Nassau County/Queens border at Belmont Park.
“AEW: Dynamite” and “AEW: Rampage” will be filmed at the future home of the NHL’s New York Islanders as the wrestling organization continues making massive moves within the sport’s landscape. AEW announced earlier this summer that they would make their first-ever appearance in New York on Sept. 22 at Arthur Ashe Stadium — the famous home of the US Open tennis tournament.
Over the last month, AEW has brought in former WWE stars in CM Punk — who had been inactive for the last seven years — up-and-coming star Adam Cole, formerly of NXT, and a former WWE champion in Daniel Bryan. Both Cole and Bryan made their debuts last week.
They will be featured amongst a loaded list of wrestlers at UBS Arena that also includes Chris Jericho, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Jon Moxley, Sting, Dr. Britt Baker, and Plainview, NY native Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF).
Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Friday, Sept. 10, at 10 am ET via AEWTix.com and Ticketmaster.com. Tickets start at $30 plus fees.
Undone by a misfiring power play that went 1-for-17 in the series, the New York Islanders allowed the game-winning shorthanded goal to Yanni Gourde in the second period to fall 1-0 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at Amalie Arena.
With it, the Islanders season ends in heartbreak in the same round against the same team for a second-straight season while the Lightning are off to meet the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Islanders were only able to muster 15 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goal in a timid offensive showing as they spent a majority of the night trying to keep up with the high-powered Lightning.
Had it not been for the heroics of Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov — who made 30 saves in the loss — the scoreline would not have been nearly as flattering for New York.
Similar to Game 5, the Islanders were on their heels for most of the first period as they were outshot 15-5 by the Lightning. But Varlamov was strong, turning away the host’s chances that — for the most part — came from the perimeter as the Islanders settled into their patented defensive structure to get out of the opening 20 minutes scoreless.
The Islanders seemingly were given a lifeline early in the second period when Barclay Goodrow was called for a crosscheck in the New York zone, but a tentative power play blew up in their faces.
An unwillingness to shoot led to a shot block from Ryan McDonagh which started a break by Anthony Cirelli down into the corner of the Islanders’ zone. He was able to turn with loose defense by Nick Leddy where he fed Gourde, who beat Varlamov glove side for a shorthanded goal just 1:49 into the frame.
Anthony Beauvillier, who scored the overtime winner in Game 6, almost came up with a quick reply when he redirected a shot from Vasilevskiy’s right post. But the power-play chance rang off the post to keep Tampa’s lead intact.
The Lightning proceeded to dominate play once back at even strength, but Varlamov continued to keep the Islanders in it.
It wasn’t until the 17-minute mark of the second that the Islanders finally started showing some offensive life to gain sustained pressure in the Tampa Bay zone — suggesting that there was something to build off of heading into the third.
While the play wasn’t as tilted in Tampa’s favor in the third, the Islanders had tremendous difficulties breaking down the Lightning’s organization, only recording two shots in a 24-minute span that ended midway through the third.
With desperation setting in, their defensemen began to pinch in the offensive zone while lines were shuffled to try and find something. They nearly did with five minutes to go when a rebound squirted to Mathew Barzal at the left post, but the puck squirted over his stick with the net gaping.
It was as close as the Islanders would get, as they received a taste of their own defensive medicine with the Lightning stacking up play in the neutral zone, shutting down options along the boards, and making zone entries and sustained zone time nearly impossible for their opponents.
And so the Islanders’ 37-year wait for an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final continues.
New York Islanders winger Anthony Beauvillier had been on a 10-game goal-scoring drought, but by Wednesday night’s end, his dry spell was replenished — as was the Nassau Coliseum ice that was quickly doused in beer after.
There will be a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup semifinal as Beauvillier scored the overtime winner just 1:08 into the extra frame to lift the Islanders to a 3-2 victory in Game 6 over the Lightning to keep their season alive for at least one more winner-take-all game in Tampa on Friday night.
Off a strong forecheck in the right circle of the Lightning zone, Beauvillier picked off a pass from Blake Coleman before cutting between the dots and ripping a wrister over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove to send the Coliseum into bedlam, which featured beers showering down from the seats.
“It feels amazing, to be honest,” Beauvillier said. “That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes and now it smells like beers.
“I honestly kind of blacked out a little bit. They turned the puck over and it kind of went it and then I sort of blacked out… couldn’t be more happy.”
The Islanders had to overcome a 2-0 second-period deficit — a significant uphill climb considering they were shut out 8-0 in Game 5 just two nights ago.
But a later second-period goal from Jordan Eberle was followed by Scott Mayfield’s equalizer with 8:44 to go in regulation to force overtime — both with assists from Mathew Barzal, who was allowed to play after facing league discipline for cross-checking Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta in the face on Monday.
“I just said stick to the process. Stick to what we’re doing,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “These are great moments. Just manage the puck, do all the things we’ve been doing for the first three periods and make sure we’re playing on our toes.”
Compared to that Game 5, the Islanders put on a much stronger showing in the first period, but still had nothing to show for it as they wound up trailing.
It was none other than Brayden Point, who scored in his ninth-straight postseason game to put Tampa ahead with 3:58 to go in the first. A strong forecheck by the scorer pinballed around Semyon Varlamov’s left post before he was able to get to it and sneak a wrister over the netminder’s stick.
After whistles had been kept in pockets for the first 23-and-a-half minutes of the game, the onus on special teams returned.
After Cal Clutterbuck was sent off for roughing, the Lightning’s stellar power-play was cut short when Victor Hedman tripped Casey Cizikas before Mikhail Sergachev interfered with Barzal — creating a 4-on-3 opportunity for the Islanders for 16 seconds and a 5-on-3 for nearly a minute after that.
They couldn’t do a thing with it, unable to get through Vasilevskiy — which hurt even more when Anthony Cirelli put Tampa Bay up 2-0 with 7:24 left in the frame.
Miscommunication between Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock allowed Cirelli to split the defense and get in alone on Varlamov where he slid his chance through the five-hole.
The Islanders finally found a response and ended the Lightning’s 12-0 goal run dating back to the third period of Game 4 through Eberle, who had also been a missing man for a majority of the playoffs.
After the first line buzzed through the Tampa zone, Barzal dropped a pass for Eberle, who meandered between the dots before sending a backhander through the pads Vasilevskiy blocker side with 5:38 to go in the second.
“I felt we needed it,” Trotz said of Eberle’s goal. “Just getting back. The first period we played really well and they ended up scoring… the way we were playing, we were going to be fine.”
Cizikas came within inches of equalizing moments later, but he couldn’t get his stick down in time as a redirected puck buzzed through the crease.
More Islanders opportunities went beckoning when they couldn’t take advantage of an Alex Killorn penalty midway through the third period as a tentative group seemed more interested in making the perfect pass than getting something on Vasilevskiy’s net.
Unlike the last time they let a power-play chance fall by the wayside, the Islanders kept the momentum up in desperation and after Barzal did well to keep possession in the Lightning zone, a weaving possession found Mayfield on the right boards.
The blueliner beelined down that side, cutting in on Vasilevskiy’s goal before popping a wrist shot from a tough angle over the big netminder’s shoulder, grazing off the crossbar and in with 8:44 to go in regulation.
New York needed one more gargantuan effort just to see it through to overtime as Matt Martin was called for a high-stick with 5:57 remaining — to which the Islanders were able to kill it off with Varlamov making five key saves.
“[This game will] be up there with one of the best because of the situation,” Trotz said. “The group that is playing right now, I love this group. This building and what it’s meant to a number of players but probably more than anything, our fans. These are great moments.
“Going off the ice and everyone’s hugging each other, there are beer cans all over, it’s quite a sight. These are moments you’ll remember and great memories to have. But we have to get another one.”
The New York Islanders announced on Monday morning that general admission season tickets have been sold out for their inaugural season at UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall. In total, over 12,000 season tickets have been sold.
“Selling out season tickets is a true testament to this loyal fanbase,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, the developer of UBS Arena. “This arena will bring the very best in both hockey and entertainment to fans across the region and we’re excited to open up the doors to the public this fall.”
The 17,000-seat hockey-first arena will provide the Islanders with a state-of-the-art home that toes the Nassau County/Queens border. Adjacent to the Belmont Park racetrack, the $1.1 billion project is slated to be completed in November.
“The unbelievable demand for premium seating shows that tri-state area businesses, their executives, clients, and fans can’t wait to return to live events,” said Adam Campbell, UBS Arena’s Senior Vice President for Premium Sales.
It’s further confirmation that the Islanders fan base can fill a larger arena after attendance questions arose in recent years after the team was dragged out to Brooklyn before returning home to a renovated Nassau Coliseum that seated fewer than 14,000 fans.
Of course, it certainly helps that the Islanders are in a Stanley Cup semifinal for a second-consecutive season, ushering in the franchise’s most successful period since its dynasty years when it won four straight championships from 1980-1983.
“We are so proud to have the support of these Islanders fans. They’ve responded in such overwhelming fashion,” said Mike Cosentino, Islanders senior vice president of sales, service and business intelligence. “This milestone marks exponential growth in our season ticket base over the last number of years. We’re looking forward to welcoming the Islanders faithful to their new home at UBS Arena in the fall.”
Elsewhere at UBS Arena, only six of 56 suits are still available and less than 250 seats remain in the arena’s Dime Club.
For a second-straight year, the New York Islanders are playing in the Stanley Cup semifinals and for a second-straight year, they’ll be playing the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The two teams met in the Edmonton bubble last summer with the Lightning prevailing in six games to end the Islanders’ Cinderella run to their first Eastern Conference Final since 1993.
Now comes a chance for some payback.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to see them again in the semifinals,” winger Anthony Beauvillier said after his team eliminated the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night. “We’re just taking a lot of pride in what we do to get back to the spot we were in last year with some unfinished business. It’s a great opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”
Taking down the Islanders was the Lightning’s penultimate stop to their second-ever Stanley Cup title, which they achieved by taking care of the Dallas Stars in the final.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, Tampa’s a great team, defending champs,” Josh Bailey said. “We believe in ourselves and know we’ll need to find our best.”
The Islanders were dealt a tough hand last season entering those conference finals against Tampa. After beating the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh game of the conference semis, they had to pack up and leave the Toronto bubble, travel across Canada to Edmonton, and play two nights later against a well-rested Lightning team that trounced a sluggish Islanders 8-2 in Game 1 — creating a hole that they were never able to dig out of — though they took Games 5 and 6 to overtime and were a Brock Nelson breakaway conversion away from forcing a seventh game.
“You have to beat the best if you want to win it all,” Nelson said. “I don’t think anyone’s been sitting here thinking about revenge on Tampa. Just taking each series one at a time. Now we can turn the page and turn our focus on them. They’re a great team, defending champs… it’ll be a good battle.”
Nelson’s sentiments derive from head coach Barry Trotz, who ensured his team didn’t look even a second ahead of where they were situated throughout the postseason.
“We’ve talked zero about Tampa Bay. Zero,” Trotz said. “We just start out this journey to beat Pittsburgh. We were able to do that and then we focused in on Boston. We get a shot to go against the champs again.”
After taking down the Florida Panthers in six games, the Lightning disposed of a Carolina Hurricanes team who won the Central Division in five games.
“I just watched them close out Carolina. That’s a good hockey team right now with a very dangerous power play,” Trotz said. “They’ve got superstar power just like Boston does. They have a few lines that can hurt you and a Vezina-type goaltender. Their defense is extremely deep and their forwards are extremely deep.”
For the second consecutive season, the New York Islanders will be playing in the Stanley Cup semifinals after defeating the Boston Bruins 6-2 in Game 6 to win the Eastern Division and set up a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Brock Nelson continues to be the big man for the big occasion, recording a pair of goals to help spark the Islanders’ offensive effort, which was yet again backstopped by the steady brilliance of goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 23 of 25 shots to help see out the Bruins.
It was another second-period outburst that put the Islanders over the top, scoring three goals to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the final frame. Nelson recorded the first two to set a raucous Nassau Coliseum into bedlam before Kyle Palmieri gave the hosts an even more comfortable cushion.
They didn’t have much to show in terms of the scoreboard after the first, tied at one, despite hitting a pair of crossbars.
The first nearly plucked an opener three minutes in when a floater from Andy Greene fell to Matt Martin on the right post, but the fourth-liner’s chance through traffic didn’t have enough on it as Tuukka Rask was able to get over make the save.
A minute later, Nelson went crossbar on a wrister that sizzled over Rask’s shoulder — only the iron bailing out the star netminder.
With 8:52 gone in the first, though, the Islanders would strike first — going against the grain of the series tendency of Boston jumping out to an early lead. Travis Zajac, who stepped in so seamlessly for the injured Oliver Wahlstrom in the first round, beat his man in front of Rask and was able to pounce on a rebound from a Noah Dobson wrister and snap it past into the back of the net to shake the foundation of the Coliseum to its very core.
After his verbal assault of the officials and the Islanders’ style of play, Bruce Cassidy got his wish as the Islanders were hit for two quick tripping penalties, giving the Bruins a 5-on-3 for 14 seconds.
While the Islanders killed off the first, they couldn’t get out of the second kill without yielding the equalizer as Brad Marchand had an easy one-timer in front of Varlamov’s goal as the Islanders’ defense gravitated to David Pastrnak in the left circle with 2:24 left in the frame.
A late push from the Islanders saw them settle things down approaching the break and nearly went back ahead at the buzzer, but Palmieri’s shot as time expired rang off the crossbar.
Nelson beat Rask again 5:20 into the second period, but this time, it found the back of the net to put the Islanders ahead. With play bogged down in the neutral zone, Nelson poked the puck away from Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to get in alone on Rask. He kept his shot down this time, slotting his shot under the glove.
With 7:21 left in the period, he doubled his total and the Islanders’ lead after Rask played the puck around the boards from behind his net. It hopped over the stick of Mike Reilly and was caught by Josh Bailey, who centered in front where two Islanders were waiting. Nelson might have taken it off the stick of Beauvillier, but the results are all that matters as he slid a backhander under Rask to make it 3-1.
Just 3:28 later, the Islanders had their fourth as another Bruins turnover — coupled with a focus on mugging Zajac behind the goal while he was down — led to Palmieri jamming a puck through Rask off an Adam Pelech shot that should’ve been cleared by Grzelcyk. But his nightmare Game 6 continued as he delivered the rebound right to an onrushing Palmieri right on the doorstep.
With another three-goal lead in the third period — just like in Game 5 — the Islanders cracked the door for the Bruins to get something going when Matt Martin tripped Jarred Tinordi 5:20 into the frame. Just 18 seconds into Boston’s man-advantage, Marchand got his second, weaving another easy one past a scrambling Varlamov.
But as they’ve done so often, the Islanders refound their footing and put on a clinic of playing with a lead — keeping Boston’s chances to the outside while playing the equivalent of keepaway. That included a minute-long possession in the Bruins zone which saw zero intention of attacking Rask’s net, just playing behind it. The move wound the clock down to 1:22 in regulation before Cal Clutterbuck snagged an empty-netter with 58.9 seconds to go.
Ten seconds later, Pulock put the icing on the cake with a bank shot from his own zone that trickled into the net.
The 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes returns as the final jewel of the Triple Crown Saturday evening (6:49 p.m. ET, NBC) with roughly 11,000 to 12,000 fans in attendance — a refreshing change of pace from last year that saw no fans and the race serving as the lead-off event of the Triple Crown.
There will be no Triple Crown winner this year after Medina Spirit’s disqualification from the Kentucky Derby and Rombauer’s win at the Preakness. The latter will be in the eight-horse field at the Belmont Stakes, but won’t be the favorite as Essential Quality returns following a disappointing fourth-place run at Churchill Downs last month.
Here is a breakdown of the field:
1) Bourbonic (15-1)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Kendrick Carmouche
Bred In: Kentucky
A 13th-place finish at the Kentucky Derby was an expected result for Bourbonic after a pair of strong showings at Aqueduct, especially a first-place finish at the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 3.
2) Essential Quality (2-1)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Luis Saez
Bred In: Kentucky
The horse that many once thought was unbeatable was, actually, beaten at the Kentucky Derby last month when Essential Quality finished fourth at the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time in his career that he lost but is still deemed as the favorite at the Belmont Stakes.
3) Rombauer (3-1)
Trainer: Michael McCarthy
Jockey: John Velazquez
Bred In: Kentucky
While Rombauer didn’t run at the Kentucky Derby, he grabbed the headlines by besting Medina Spirit on his way to winning the Preakness. This is a horse that’s won two of its last three races, including a third-place finish at the Blue Grass Stakes in April.
4) Hot Rod Charlie (7-2)
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Bred In: Kentucky
Hot Rod Charlie remains as one of the favorites after a strong third-place showing at the Kentucky Derby where he was at 8-1 odds. It continued his hot run of form, finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November and third at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in Santa Anita in January before winning the Louisiana Derby on March 20.
5) France Go de Ina (30-1)
Trainer: Hideyuki Mori
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Bred In: Kentucky
France Go de Ina’s first race on American soil didn’t necessarily go to plan after finishing seventh at the Preakness. Once again a longshot, this horse’s only two wins have come in Japan.
6) Known Agenda (6-1)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Bred In: Kentucky
Known Agenda was one of the favorites heading into the Kentucky Derby at 6-1 but finished a disappointing ninth. His odds have remained unchanged heading into the Belmont Stakes, though concerns still remain on his running style that prompted Pletcher to put blinders on him back in February.
7) Rock Your World (9-2)
Trainer: John Sadler
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Bred In: Kentucky
Rock Your World was the second-favorite heading into the Kentucky Derby having never lost a race in his career. But a 17th-place finish at Churchill Downs prompted Sadler to skip the horse running the Preakness. Back at Belmont, Rock Your World still has one of the better odds.
8) Overtook (20-1)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Manny Franco
Bred In: Kentucky
This is Overtook’s first appearance in a Triple Crown race; his only race coming May 8 at the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park where he finished third. Overtook hasn’t raced outside of New York.
Put down the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes, scheduled for Saturday night from Elmont, NY, as another indicator that things are heading back to normal.
The third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown returns to its rightful place as the final event of the three-legged series after COVID-19 altered the sport’s schedule last year.
It’s also back to its normal distance of 1 1/2 miles compared to the 1 1/8 miles it was trimmed down to in 2020.
Nothing like a grueling test to finish off the primetime portion of horse racing’s biggest event.
On Tuesday, the post positions were drawn for a small field of just eight horses. However, there is an abundance of quality and plenty of storylines to watch out for.
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit will not participate in the Belmont Stakes as trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from the NYRA is still in effect after the horse failed a post-race drug test following the Run for the Roses.
Preakness winner Rombauer will be taking part in the Belmont Stakes. After having 12-1 odds to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, his odds have shot up on Saturday as one of the favorites.
He isn’t the favorite, though, as Essential Quality — who was the heavy favorite for the Kentucky Derby — is the favorite to win Belmont after foregoing the Preakness.
Here is how the field is shaking up with the morning lines:
If I were to show you pictures of the Nassau Coliseum, what would you think of it?
Not much, probably.
Its metallic facade installed in 2016 to cover its mundane cement shell was the equivalent of putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.
Its concourse is cramped, the bathroom lines are too long, the scoreboard is smaller than some found in minor-league arenas. Don’t even get started on the amenities, either.
Yet it’s this building — which holds a little over 13,000 fans as one of the smallest arenas in hockey — that houses the specters of the last great North American sports dynasty, provides one of the purest hockey-watching experiences in the NHL, and provides the ultimate home-ice advantage for its home team, the New York Islanders.
And in its final season of hosting this Islanders team before they move to a massive, state-of-the-art home at UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall, the Coliseum and its impassioned fan base — which will defend the honor of the building nicknamed “The Old Barn” until the very end — are flexing its muscles one last time; and it was on full display this week.
The Islanders finished off their first-round playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, closing the series out with a 5-3 victory in Game 6 in front of 9,000 fans that sounded like an army of 90,000 — especially when the Islanders rattled off three goals in 2:59 seconds during the second period — awakening the ghosts of glory days past inside a building that had been devoid of such special moments for so long.
Nassau Coliseum saw the Islanders win four-straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. It saw some of the greatest players in the game — Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier — call it home. But it also saw three incredibly lean decades of dysfunctional management and even worse teams, making the playoffs just nine times in 27 years.
Wednesday night’s win that punches a ticket to a second-round meeting with the Boston Bruins was the first time since 1993 that the Islanders clinched a postseason series on the Coliseum’s ice — a just reward for an incredibly patient fan base that had been through the wringer.
“This is a special group, a special place,” Islanders veteran forward Brock Nelson, who scored two of those three quick second-period goals, said. “Probably a lot of fans that were here tonight that witnessed the dynasty back in the 80s and know what that winning feels like. It was fun to get it in front of them. We’re trying to make history of our own.”
There is a caveat that hinders these Islanders during this last run at the Coliseum — regardless of how much they express a desire to send the Coliseum “off with a bang,” as fourth-liner Cal Clutterbuck said heading into the playoffs.
A detailed, meticulous game requires laser focus to continue exceeding the limited expectations the outside hockey world put on them. Regardless of postseason result, you’ll hear players and coaches alike just minutes after the final buzzer sounds imploring that the proverbial page has already been flipped and they’re focusing on the next game.
But even head coach Barry Trotz — who also preaches to his players the need to enjoy the ride and intensity of playoff hockey — couldn’t help but drink in the moment, which was the word of the day, of Wednesday night’s clincher.
“It’s about moments. This place has a great history,” Trotz said. “I said listen, when you’re older, you can see the moment and you appreciate the moment because you’re getting older and you might not have many moments as a player, a coach, a person in life. This is a moment you don’t want to slip by.
“This is a good moment for that group in there, for the guys who have played in this building a lot, the young guys who are a part of the Islanders… and having success and trying to create hopefully another legacy.”
Nelson has seen it all with the Islanders.
The eight-year veteran was a rookie when the Islanders finished dead-last in the division in 2014. He moved with the team from the Coliseum to Brooklyn — which lasted just two-plus disastrous years — was a part of a team that finished in seventh of eight teams in the division just four years ago, and starred when the Islanders made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final in the COVID bubbles last year.
“It’s been quite a while, quite the journey,” Nelson said. “A couple guys have been here longer than I have… Everyone wants to go out there and win and compete for a Stanley Cup and raise it. To see progress, getting close, it’s fun, it’s a great place to do it. Now we’re trying to go all the way.”
It certainly would be a fitting end to what is becoming the final chapter of a stirring love letter between a team, its faithful fan base, and the humble abode on Hempstead Turnpike that they will take with them for eternity.
And that’s why all involved just have to enjoy the moment.
“There are moments you’re going to enjoy. This was a moment with the crowd the way they were… this was one of those moments you bank in your memory bank,” Trotz said. “When you finish your career, you’ll remember that moment.
“Our fans were fantastic, it was loud. They were into it, we were into it. Without them, I don’t know if we could’ve pulled this off.”
The ultimate compliment for the Islanders’ faithful while also laying the groundwork for their next challenge in the Bruins. After all, only 12 more wins separate them between — and by Trotz and his players’ standards, it’s going to take every member of the Islanders’ nation to truly send the Coliseum out on the sweetest of notes.
For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders clinched a playoff series at home, riding a second-period outbreak of three goals in just under three minutes to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-3, Game 6 victory.
They’ll meet the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Division final.
“Really proud. I thought we showed a lot of resiliency,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I liked our resiliency, I liked our physicality, I liked our detail.”
Brock Nelson potted a pair of goals in the Islanders’ big middle frame, which came just 2:59 apart, eliminating his side’s constant role of playing from behind not only in Game 6 but in the series.
“We were able to transition and execute and go down the ice. Lots of good things, but I liked the surge in the second period,” Trotz said. “And then we just battled.”
Once again, it was rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin who backstopped the Islanders to the series win — coming out on top of all four games he started — making 34 saves on Wednesday night and getting better and better as the night improved.
For the third time this series, the Islanders quickly found themselves playing catchup as the Penguins took the lead 1:27 into the first period on the game’s first shot.
After an unsuccessful pinch from Nick Leddy and a turnover by Mathew Barzal, the Penguins sprung an odd-man rush where Kasperi Kapanen centered a pass for Jeff Carter, who slotted his fourth goal of the series through the wickets of Sorokin.
The Islanders quickly provided a response on their first shot of the game when Anthony Beauvillier popped a wrister over Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry on a rush started by Nelson in the neutral zone — who saucered a pass right to the tape of Beauvillier while he was streaking toward the goal in Pittsburgh’s zone.
“This is a special group we have. Lots of character, lots of leadership,” Beauvillier said. “We just stuck with it and the fans gave us a boost… They’re a huge part of our success.”
After Scott Mayfield was called for a cross-checking penalty on Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins took the lead via the power play with 8:48 remaining in the first; Jake Guentzel’s one-timer deflected by Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock before fluttering past Sorokin, who could do nothing but watch it sail past him.
Sorokin had to bail out Leddy moments later after the defenseman gifted a turnover to Jared McCann, who skated in alone on the rookie netminder. Just moments later, the Islanders tied it back up when Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shot was deflected right into the path of Kyle Palmieri, who cleaned up the rebound just 1:13 after Guentzel’s goal.
In the final minutes of the first, Travis Zajac — who was thrust into the starting lineup after Oliver Wahlstrom was injured in Game 5 — bailed Sorokin out after Kasperi Kapanen wove around the netminder with traffic in front. With a yawning goal, Zajac’s stick halted the chance to ensure the Islanders went into the first intermission tied at two.
But the Islanders would concede a third early in the second when Jason Zucker deflected a shot from Cody Ceci on the right point around Sorokin just 1:53 into the frame.
It was an anthill to climb as the Islanders reeled off three goals in 2:59 to take a 5-3 lead heading into the third.
Nelson tied the game off a feed picture-perfect cross-ice feed from Josh Bailey to slot an easy wrister into an open net.
Just 13 seconds later, Ryan Pulock unloaded a patented bomb of a slapshot that Jarry never recognized until it was in the back of his net.
With Jarry rattled by the relentless noise machine that was the Coliseum crowd, Nelson picked up his second with 9:26 left in the second; a wrister that just squeaked through the wickets of the Penguins’ shaken netminder.
“Whenever you can kind of get that momentum and ride it, that’s huge,” Nelson said. “There’s going to be ups and downs, but you can get the crowd up and going, get the adrenaline flowing… that’s huge.”
Nelson had a chance at a hat trick minutes later on a breakaway, but he missed the net — which led to a breakaway for the dangerous Evgeni Malkin on the other end, to which Sorokin denied.
As expected heading into the third, the Islanders faced the most desperate version of the Penguins yet, as the visitors faced elimination.
But as the Islanders have patented over the last three years, they yielded a majority of possession in the final period to the Pens, but they did not allow many high-danger chances.
With 4:44 remaining in the game, Matt Martin took a high stick from John Marino, drawing blood, which prompted a four-minute Islanders power play to help see Game 6 out.