There are several names you can affix to the Islanders in good conscience.
“Opportunistic” is one. “Odds-beaters” is another.
Advancing to the National Hockey League’s second playoff round, Jack Capuano‘s sextet thrice struck when opportunity knocked and the Isles responded to eventually topple Florida.
The trio of sudden-death overtime victories — especially the finale on Sunday night at Barclays Center — helped smite the favored Panthers, four games to two.
But long-shots, especially in the NHL, never make it easy on themselves, nor did the Isles.
And that explains why Cappy’s come-from-behind stalwarts gave Vegas odds-makers the heebie-jeebies.
After all, in the final minute of Game 6 on Sunday, when the Isles trailed 1-0, their yawning, goalie-vacated net virtually pleaded for another Cats’ score — and came within inches only from getting it.
Remarkably, the Isles plugged the holes long enough to enable The Flying Fort — alias defenseman Nick Leddy — to swoop down the ice on an all-or-nothing-at-all foray.
As it happened, Leddy, The-Stride-King, was the eventual architect of John Tavares‘ tying goal with a mere 54 seconds left in regulation time.
But when you realize that in the second overtime, early-Isles-killer Reilly Smith actually beat Thomas Greiss only to have his shot clang harmlessly off the goal post, neither “opportunistic” nor “odds-beaters” are fitting enough monikers.
“Miracle-makers” has to round out the wordsmith trio that fits this team, especially after Captain John did a merry-go-round goalie Roberto Luongo’s cage to gift-wrap the series.
Beating the 2015 Stanley Cup Finalist Tampa Bay Lightning will require a miracle of another sort since the Bolts are more experienced and accomplished than their Panthers counterparts.
Not that the Brooklynites are shivering in their skates. Having climbed to the second playoff rung for the first time in 23 years, they have a refreshing feeling about themselves.
“They have confidence,” says Capuano. “They are maturing as players and as a group. We know we can win at any type of hockey we play.”
That feeling is rooted in goal. Unproven in playoff hockey up until now, Greiss is yet another who has stunned critics to the very core with his excellence between the pipes. The native of Germany made 41 saves on Sunday, many biggies.
“To win a playoff round,” adds Cappy, “you need great goaltending and Thomas came up big for us, especially when we weren’t playing that well.”
Tactical coaching moves also were part of the winning equation. Capuano took a gamble, benching regular — but ineffective — forward Ryan Strome, replacing him with Steve Bernier, a forgotten Islander during the regular season.
The ex-Devil forward played a tenacious, savvy game up front, forechecking like a ferret after the hot puck. He even produced a few good scoring chances.
Ditto for his former New Jersey teammate Marek Zidlicky the double-threat (defense-offense) backliner who set up the Game Five OT score.
From a franchise viewpoint, the series win could not be a better tonic. Decibel-belting sellout crowds at Barclays Center have been automatic and will continue through Round 2.
No question, the players are feeding off fans enthusiasm and are sharing in the pot of joy.
“When we beat Florida,” Tavares asserts, “I was thinking about our fans and how they have been dying for this and deserve the good feeling we all have.”
To a man, Kings County’s latest heroes are welcoming the respite. Three overtime games take a toll and injuries mounted; the latest being Josh Bailey who left early in Game 6.
On the other side, the Lightning will open the series minus captain Steve Stamkos and ace defenseman Anton Stralman, not to mention feisty forward J.T. Brown.
Still, Tampa Bay knocked off Detroit in five games and its lineup is sprinkled with formidable forwards including Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula, Nikita Kucherov and ex-Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, just to name a few.
The Bolts last line of defense, goalie Ben Bishop, is at the very top of his game and proved it by virtually stealing the fifth and series-clinching match from the Red Wings.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk concludes. “We just need to keep playing the way we know we can and good things will happen.”
That means being opportunistic, odds-beaters and about as miraculous as the Islanders were in beating the favored Panthers.