For kids growing up playing hockey on streets and rinks all over North America, there has always been the opportunity to dream. Sometimes those dreams can continue to high school, college, juniors and the professional ranks, but on those concrete or ice rinks, the dream as a youngster is to do something special.
Like to be in a moment that the Islanders will be in against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, a winner take all game seven to advance to the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (730pm NBC).
“The great think is that it’s a game seven,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “When you do everything as a young kid playing on the streets, you’re playing game seven for the Stanley Cup. This is a game seven, not necessarily for the Stanley Cup but it’s a chance to get to the Stanley Cup.”
Islanders/Flyers Series Schedule:
Game 1: Monday August 24th…Islanders 4 Flyers 0 (Islanders lead 1-0)
Game 2: Wednesday August 26th…Flyers 4 Islanders 3 F/OT (Series Tied 1-1)
Game 3: Saturday August 29th…Islanders 3 Flyers 1 (Islanders lead 2-1)
Game 4: Sunday August 30th…Islanders 3 Flyers 2 (Islanders lead 3-1)
Game 5: Tuesday September 1st…Flyers 4 Islanders 3 F/OT (Islanders lead 3-2)
Game 6: Thursday September 3rd…Flyers 5 Islanders 4 F/2OT (Series Tied 3-3)
Game 7: Saturday September 5th…Islanders vs Flyers…730pm
There was certainly a time in this series where the last thing that the Islanders were dreaming off was a game seven. After a 3-2 win in game four, the Islanders had a 3-1 series lead, but the Flyers won game five in overtime 4-3 and then game six in double overtime 5-4, a game that the Islanders led 4-3 in the third period. The chances to wrap up the series have certainly been there for the Islanders, but now they will be part of the most magic two words in professional sports when it comes to a series.
“This is kind of what you want as a player,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson. “You gotta win a game, refocus, reset and whatever’s happened in the past is done and it’s about one game and getting ready for that. We’re here tied up at 3-3 now heading into game seven. You gotta win a hockey game to go on.”
Islanders fans have certainly taken a mental beating in this series going through a spectrum of emotions including three overtime losses. In game two, the Islanders overcame a 3-0 deficit to send the game into overtime before losing. Then, the Islanders rallied from 3-1 down in the third period to force overtime in game five. And in game six, the Islanders dug themselves out of an early 2-0 hole, rallied to take the lead twice, but couldn’t finish the deal.
How the fans handle it is one thing, but the players have turned the page on the disappointments of the last two games.
“It’s short term memory,” said Islanders defenseman Andy Greene. “As soon as (game six) was over it was let’s focus on game seven here and get ready. It come down to one game and let’s go out and play and let’s do it.”
This will be just the 9th game seven in Islanders playoff history (they’re 3-5 in the previous 8) and the third against the Flyers. Philadelphia won four games to three in 1975 after the Islanders rallied from a 3-0 hole to come back and force a game seven. In 1987, the Islanders rallied from 3-1 down to tie the series but lost game seven in Philadelphia. This will be the first time that the Islanders are playing a game seven in a series in which they led 3-1 and they’re now in danger of losing a series that they led 3-1 for the first time after winning the first ten.
But while the Islanders couldn’t take care of business in the last two games, there is the excitement of playing in a game seven.
“It’s what you play for,” said Greene who played in two game sevens with the New Jersey Devils winning one and losing one. “These moments are fun. You shouldn’t be nervous and I know it’s easier said than done but you’re out there and trust everything you’ve done throughout the year and throughout the series and just trust yourself as a hockey player and it comes down to believing in yourself and waiting for that opportunity and going to grab it.”
The Islanders have lost the last two game sevens that they’ve played in falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002 and the Washington Capitals on April 27th, 2015 in DC. There are nine current Islanders that were on the ice for that 2-1 loss in game seven against the Caps, including defensemen Johnny Boychuck and Thomas Hickey who have yet to appear in this series against the Flyers, while current Islanders Captain Anders Lee was a healthy scratch for that game seven in Washington.
For the Islanders players who played that night against the Capitals, they have another shot now to possibly experience what it’s like to win a game seven.
“It’s been some time since the game seven in Washington but it’s fun,” said Nelson. “It’s an opportunity that you cherish and you want to have and make the most of it. You’re playing to move on. I think that’s all that really needs to be said. You can’t overthink it. There’s a lot of guys that would be happy to be where we are right now and we just want to go out there and take advantage of it.”
It’s been 27 years since the Islanders played in a conference final and they’ve let two chances to party like its 1993 slip away. Now they have this one final shot in the ultimate showdown of a sports playoff series….game seven.
As actor Kurt Russell said while playing Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team…
“Great moments are born with great opportunity and that’s what you have here tonight boys.”
For the Islanders, that moment comes on Saturday night as they hope to earn themselves a trip to Edmonton for the conference final.
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)