The Islanders Hold the Title of 'Ultimate Survivors'
Isles-Bolts head back to Tampa for Friday night's Game 7. Canadiens try and clinch 1st Final birth since 1993. Pat Foley plans on stepping away in Chicago. Saying goodby to Rene Robert.
Considering that the Nassaumen were a mere 48 hours away from being beaten 8-0 by Tampa Bay, coach Barry Trotz's skaters are showing a marvelous knack for developing amnesia.
With little evidence of their traumatic defeat in Game Five, the Isles
treated the rip-snortin' roaring crowd to a 3-2 overtime victory sending the series back south again for the climactic seventh game in Boltsville.
You hardly could tell that this was the same fumbly, bumbly, stumbly team that did virtually nothing right against the defending champions two nights earlier.
How the metamorphosis --from chumps to dumping-the-Champs --could take place defies credulity.
For one thing, the Visitors were well-thwarted by goalie Semyon Varlamof. For another, Varly obtained the kind of protection that was egregiously lacking in The Southland
No less important was the realization among the Trotz-ites that it would not be a bad idea to score a goal once in a while.
Put 'em all together and you have yet another reason why this series has featured more action than a saddle-less cowboy on a raging bull.
For at least half the game, it appeared as if the Bolts would bust it open and repeat with another rout, especially after they took a two-goal lead.
"We've been resilient all year," said Mathew Barzal whose game got better as the second half of the match unfolded. "This was no different."
But it was Mat's buddy, Jordan Eberle, who thrust his team back in the contest with a shot that could not be praised enough -- the backhand.
"Goalies will tell you," noted ex-Islanders netminder Glenn (Chico) Resch, "that the backhand is a deceptive shot and seems to surprise many goaltenders."
Eberle's drive had more pizzazz than might have been apparent on the home screen but it sailed up and in and, suddenly, they Isles were regenerated with the crowd going downright mad.
Taking the 2-1 lead into the third period, the Lightning owned a league-wide reputation for being able to shut down the foe. This seemed to be the case through the first half of the third frame.
"That's when Barzal took over again," noted former NHLer turned NBC analyst Patrick Sharp. "His skating and puck-handling were from another world. Even the best Tampa defenseman had trouble checking him."
Suddenly, it paid dividends for the peripatetic New York center.
Controlling the puck inside the Bolts' zone, Barzal spotted his defenseman Scott Mayfield cutting in on the right side.
Barzal's pass was true and, somehow, Mayfield found just enough space for his wrister to find air under the right goal post. Seemingly miraculously, the game now was tied 2-2.
But even then, the Isles found themselves in deep mud. Matt Martin was nailed with a two-minute penalty.
"A lot of us thought this would be a repeat of an earlier game when the Islanders tied it and then blew the game in less than a minute," recalled lifetime fan, Eli Polatoff.
But the Islanders penalty kill was superb under pressure and the underdogs escaped danger and gained a breather during overtime.
"The third period was strong," said Patrick Sharp. "They had taken control of the game. Then again, there's no telling what can happen in overtime."
What happened was that Barry Trotz's troops picked up where they had left off in the fading minutes of the third period.
Having moved the puck into the enemy territory, the Isles laid on an effective forecheck while the Bolts began arranging a counterattack.
But elusive Anthony Beauvillier intercepted a short pass; seemed to take a millisecond to tame the puck and then fired it home in almost the same motion.
The winning goal was executed so fast, at first many of the onlookers couldn't believe that it had ended a marvelous contest; one that even the opposition captain, Steven Stamkos conceded.
"We were two hard-fighting hockey teams battling it out," said Stamkos. "Now we head back home with our crowd behind us. This is what great hockey is all about."
Congratulations to both admirable clubs; and in this case the redoubtable Islanders.
The Isles magnificently counterattacked after the 8-0 drubbing in Tampa Bay and last night coming from behind after being down 2-0 to force overtime and Beauvillier's sudden-death clincher. And was unreal.
Now here's the understatement of the day or week -- or month.
Friday night's clash should be a classic!
Stan’s Java Jive
HEADLINE: A SEASON OF BROADCASTING FAREWELL
THE JIVE: The Blackhawks announced that this upcoming season will be the last for legendary broadcaster Pat Foley. Foley will be honored throughout his 39th and final season in the booth. Our Chicago resident, Coby Maeir, offers his thoughts:
"I am sad to see this news. Mr. Foley's voice was a prominent piece of my childhood and throughout my life. He is a great broadcaster and he will be missed on the air. I want to thank Mr. Foley for his hard work and dedication, and wish him the best in the next chapter of his life."
HEADLINE: THE PASSING OF A FORGOTTEN SABRE
THE JIVE: Rene Robert, who just recently passed away, was a hockey star whose shining hours often were dimmed by those around him.
A member of The French Connection -- along with Gil Perreault and Rick Martin -- Robert was one would call "The Handyman of the Line."
He did many things well and often without any fuss or fanfare. The problem -- if you can call it a "problem" -- was that both Perreault and Martin played the game in a more spectacular fashion.
Gil, especially, got the headlines and Rick was right behind in that department while Rene did more of the less exalted grit work.
NHL.com columnist, Dave Stubbs, included some great quotes from Robert in his piece Tuesday:
"Well, it makes your life a lot easier when you play with two tremendous hockey players," Robert told hockey columnist Joe Pelletier in reflection. "Back in the '70s, our line was very famous throughout the League. A lot of people say, 'What is it like to play with people like that?' To be very honest with you, it takes an awful lot of luck.
"I believe everything in life comes to you with a reason and that there's a meaning to everything that we do, but the fact that I played with [Perreault and Martin], what made us click and what made us so good was pure luck. Chemistry was there, there's no two ways about it. But when you play with people of that caliber, it's a lot easier to play hockey."
"The "French Connection" line of Perreault, from Victoriaville, Quebec; Martin, a native of Montreal-district Verdun; and Robert electrified Sabres fans and terrorized the opposition. It was Robert who dug into the corners and usually came out with the puck, feeding his linemates.
"His most famous goal surely came on home ice May 20, 1975, the Game 3 Stanley Cup Final winner scored at 18:29 of overtime. The Sabres' 5-4 win capped a surreal game that featured several delays to skate off a fog that shrouded the ice, a bat circling the rink that caused a few additional delays, and a fan who tried to pick a fight with Flyers heavyweight Dave Schultz.
"Retiring to work as a brewery sales representative, Robert played a strong role with the NHL Alumni Association, serving as its president."
HEADLINE: EXPLAINING THE CANADIENS SECRET WEAPONS
THE JIVE: Our supreme analyst, Gus Vic has been studying the Habs success with an Argus eye. Here's an analysis that every other "expert" has missed and is exclusive with us.
"There’s been a whole lot of impressive since the Canadiens kicked off their Stanley Cup victory tour with their Game Five overtime win in Toronto but Tuesday’s fifth game win in Vegas may be the topper.
"Essentially, the Habs are taking the Golden Knights three-zone pressure game and are jamming it right down their throats authoring a version as impressive as what VGK did en route to the Final in 2018. If anyone was a doubter (guilty with explanation), only a clinching win to gain the Final should put those doubts to rest. Montreal was exceptional, choking off the neutral zone, forcing turnovers all over the ice and were more opportunistic faster than you can say, “What happened to Mark Stone?” The Luke Richardson/Dominique Ducharme combo platter has used – and gotten – as much, if not more, out of their fourth line, than any of the other three semi-finalists.
"So if you are Peter DeBoer, your margin to get this figured out has expired. Your team has no forecheck, no flow and appears emotionally off kilter. The only way out of this is a direct, heavy pushback. That means the forecheck look has to change as the Canadiens are exiting the defensive zone with laughable ease. Perhaps instead of a single player hard on the forecheck, send two on a beeline to engage the retrieving defender, have the third forward high on the strong side for primary support and have the weak side defenseman pinch with discretion. Discretion being the key word.
"Also believe DeBoer lost any emotional edge heading into Game 5 by opting for Fleury over Lehner. The former did absolutely nothing wrong Tuesday. No fault on any of the three goals with blame directly at the feet of Nick Holden for allowing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to go untouched for the first goal rebound, collective mindlessness allowing Eric Staal to come off the bench uncontested for the second goal and Stone’s shorthanded blue line turnover leading to Cole Caufield’s marker. Still, there was a confidence VGK exhibited as Game 4 went on thanks to Lehner that was absent last night. It says here, the Golden Knights survival should be in Lehner’s lap.
"Before we go, props to Luke Richardson. Here’s a guy everyone has to be pulling for though this challenge is small potatoes in relation to having a permanent hole in his heart having lost his 14-year-old daughter to suicide in 2010."