Only at Nassau Coliseum could the home team’s biggest goal since the New York Islanders last played for the Stanley Cup in 1984 be greeted with a golden shower. At least it was beer.
In any other National Hockey League arena, bombing your own players with beer cans is a dangerous sign of anger and unhappiness. At “The Coli,” it was a sign Wednesday of pure, unbridled euphoria.
Anthony Beauvillier, who hadn’t scored in 10 playoff games, intercepted Blake Coleman’s pass across his own slot and wristed a puck past Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at 1:08 of overtime to give the Islanders a 3-2 win and extend the Stanley Cup semi-final series to Game 7 and, perhaps, extend the lifespan of the quirkiest, most antiquated, beer-soaked arena in the NHL.
Told a few days ago by coach Barry Trotz to fight for his inches, Beauvillier took a mile by completing the Islanders’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit in Game 6 against the Stanley Cup champions.
And then it was Miller time.
“It feels amazing, to be honest,” Beauvillier, the fifth-year Islander, told reporters. “That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes and now it smells like beers. I mean, that place was going crazy. Everyone's happy we're going back to Tampa.”
“That was amazing,” Islanders centre Mat Barzal said after setting up the first two New York goals. “We got that first one and (the fans) just got riled up. And obviously in overtime, I've never seen anything like that. A little dangerous. You don't see that too often, so we embrace it and that's the Islander faithful. They're passionate and they get excited. It was good stuff.”
Barzal was the best player on either team. Beauvillier was the hero. But the real star was the 49-year-old arena and the 12,978 fans who crowded in for happy hour and what may have been the final NHL game in the old barn before the Islanders move next season slightly closer to civilization at Belmont Park.
For 34 minutes Wednesday, it looked like it would be a funeral – or at least a raucous Irish wake where family members end up fighting each other before collapsing into tears and hugs and more pints of Guinness.
But after another hyper-speed rush by Barzal backed up Lightning defenders, Jordan Eberle snatched a goal back for the Islanders at 14:22 of the second period to make it 2-1. Nearly a full period later, Barzal saw defenceman Scott Mayfield skate off the New York bench like a young Denis Potvin, then dished the puck to his teammate who stunned Vasilevskiy with a bar-down, short-side shot from a sharp angle to tie the game at 11:16 of the third.
Beauvillier couldn’t recall much about the first overtime goal of his career, but the 24-year-old anticipated Coleman’s little dump pass as the Lightning were trying to break out of its zone, and gave Vasilevskiy no time to really set himself before scoring from the slot.
“Saw it go in and... just kind of blacked out,” Beauvillier said. “I was just so happy, I was screaming and everyone kind of jumped on me. I couldn't be more happy.
“As a kid, you kind of try to imagine yourself going to Game 7 and having a good game and having good moments with your teammates. I think we've earned the right to go back and play Game 7.”
The Islanders, who lost Game 6 in overtime to the Lightning at this stage of the playoffs last year, have dragged Tampa into Game 7 on Friday after, incredibly, surrendering 12 straight goals over parts of three games. That included an 8-0 humiliation by the Lightning in Game 5 on Monday.
“You know, you have a vision of how this series will go,” Trotz, the New York coach who has been-there-done-that, said late Wednesday. “It never plays out the way you think it will. It just doesn't. It's the weirdest thing, but that's the magic of playoff hockey and the magic of being in the moment. The moment is right in front of you all the time. You've just got to recognize those moments. This will be one that, you know, you'll remember as a player, as a coach, as a fan.”
Trotz recognized the moment after Beauvillier scored as special — at least when he wasn’t covering his head to guard against the next incoming barrage of beer.
“I've had a few moments; I've been at this a long time,” Trotz said. “It will be up there as one of the best because of the situation. No. 1, the group that is playing right now -- I love this group, the character of this group -- and I would say this building, 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 everybody's hugging each other, there’s beer cans flying all over. It's quite a sight.
"It was a moment that you'll remember. These are big moments and great memories to have. But we've got to get another one.”