New York Islanders: Five Most Memorable Games this Season

Rob Taub

Before the coronavirus wreaked havoc among the hockey and sports world, the New York Islanders were in the midst of a fight for the postseason despite a 0-3-4 skid.

Their game was beginning to come back according to head coach Barry Trotz. That effort and mindset he spoke of were evident at many times during this season, mainly from mid-October till January.

Now, with it being over a month since the Isles have played a game and the season still on hiatus, it’s easy to look back on some of the more memorable games that occurred before the NHL shut down on March 12th.

5. John Tonelli’s Jersey Retirement (February 21, 2020)

It was a night that was long overdue for the organization and the fans.

Tonelli, a member of the “Core of the Four”, played an integral role in the Islanders’ dynasty. He was already a member of the Isles’ Hall of Fame but didn’t receive the honor of having his number sent to the rafters.

Tonelli and the Isles had a rocky relationship before new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin took over a few years ago. Ledecky realized how valuable Tonelli was to the fabric of the team and brought him back with open arms, and eventually made it a point to see Tonelli’s number be put in the place it deserves.

So on February 21, Tonelli’s number was sent to the ceiling at Nassau Coliseum, making his the seventh to be retired by the franchise. Tonelli even shared a special moment with current Islanders captain, Anders Lee, for whom he said he would allow Lee to keep on the tradition of wearing the number 27.

As for the game, the Islanders played host to the lowly Detroit Red Wings. They had come off a very disappointing road trip, which saw them go 0-4-0 out West.

The Isles made sure they weren’t going to — and couldn’t afford to lose — on this night.

Jordan Eberle gave the Isles the lead just six minutes into the game. He would add another in the second period before notching his first hat trick as and Islanders with an empty netter late in regulation.

Leo Komarov added a second empty netter with seven seconds left to cap off a 4-1 win and a really fun night at the Old Barn.

4. Finally Beating the B’s (December 19, 2019)

The Boston Bruins have owned the Islanders for a long time.

Despite the 4-0 washout in early March and a hard-fought 3-2 OT loss in Brooklyn, the Isles finally got the best of the Bruins this season in Boston nonetheless.

In just one of their two appearances on national tv, the Isles headed to Beantown in a preview of a possible playoff matchup. The Bruins at this juncture were all alone atop the Atlantic Division and were again holding the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Trotz’s skaters, on the other hand, had just come off their worst loss under his since he became coach — an 8-3 pasting by the Nashville Predators.

Needing to bounce back and also finally beat the Bruins, the Isles came out with a purpose.

The Islanders would go down 1-0 early, just 1:58 into the first period. Boston’s Anders Bjork beat Semyon Varlamov with a wrister. After that, the Islanders played their smothering defensive style and received phenomenal goaltending to shut down the B’s lethal attack. The second period saw the Isles score twice on only six shots on goals by former Bruin, Johnny Boychuk, and Mathew Barzal

The third period came, and the Islanders did surrender the tying goal but never broke.

Skating stride for stride, the game went to overtime and eventually a shootout. Eberle and Barzal would score in the first two rounds for the Islanders, meaning the Bruins David Pastrnak would need to score to extend the skills competition. He did. Josh Bailey would miss with a chance to win it, leaving it all up to Brad Marchand. Varlamov stoned Marchand with his pad and gave the Isles their first win in Boston in over three years.

The victory also marked one of the signature wins of the season.

3. Back-to-back huge wins from the Captain (January 6 & 7, 2020)

2020 began with a bang for the Isles with a crucial 4-3 win down in Washington on New Year’s Eve. They followed that up with two duds against the fledgling New Jersey Devils and struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.

So they needed to get back on track, and they would be facing a back-to-back situation against a red-hot Avalanche team and those same Devils, who had defeated them a few nights earlier.

At home versus Colorado, the Islanders did their best to keep up after a strong first period. They did in part to some excellent netminding from Varlamov. The second period had the Avs take the lead, only to have it called back for the play being offside. A scoreless game into the third, Lee finally broke through for the Isles at the 6:54 mark of the third.

Lee’s tally would be all the Islanders would need as they hung on for a 1-0 shutout. Varlamov was the star, making 33 saves against his former squad and exacting some revenge in the process.

The next night in Newark, it was again Lee who would play the hero.

Tied 3-3 heading into overtime, Lee found some space as the Islanders entered the Devils’ zone after he made a feed to Devon Toews. Toews played catch with Lee, who let a wrist shot go just before he reached the hash marks.

The shot beat Devils goalie MacKenzie Blackwood top shelf, giving the Isles a 4-3 comeback victory and their second win in 24 hours.

2. Pushing the Limit in Pitt (November 19. 2019)

The Islanders were nearing the end of their 17-game point streak when they arrived in Pittsburgh for the first time all season. Just eight months earlier, the Isles celebrated on the ice at PPG Paints Arena after sweeping the Penguins in their first-round series.

This meant there was no love lost between the two rivals. The game itself looked like the Islanders had forgotten the Penguins, no matter dominating them in that postseason, were still a very formidable team.

Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into the second, but that’s where the Isles began to shift the game in their favor.

Anthony Beauvillier got the Islanders on the board early in the frame and Brock Nelson would tie the game three minutes later. Bradon Tanev would regain the lead for the Pens with under five minutes left in the period.

The third period looked like the Isles were going to see their point streak come to an end after Jake Guentzel doubled the Pens lead just 2:39 into the third. But then, the Isles fought back.

Josh Bailey got his team within one and the Isles pushed from there until there was under two minutes to play when Ryan Pulock ripped a shot past Penguins goalie Matt Murray to tie the game at four.

Now with one point in the bank, it was on to overtime. And it only took two minutes and 55 seconds for the Islanders to complete their comeback.

Beauvillier intercepted a pass along the wall in the Penguins zone, then fed a wide-open Nelson who threw a shot at Murray which led to rebound after the puck snuck threw his pads. Nelson, seeing this, skated right behind Murray and deposited the loose puck into the back of the yawning cage for an unbelievable 5-4 comeback victory.

That win itself was remarkable, as it set a new franchise record for games with consecutive points. But it was the other win just three nights earlier that claims the top slot for Isles wins this year.

1. Flying Comeback in Philly (November 16, 2019)

The Islanders had won in almost every single way imaginable in their absurd run from mid-October until late November.

It was this game on a Saturday night in Philadelphia that trumped them all.

Watching this game back, it actually wasn’t a bad game for the Islanders at all. They had outshot the Flyers 22-18 after two periods but still found themselves down 3-0 entering the third period.

Speaking of that final frame, the Isles kept pushing and finally broke through thanks to Beauvillier, who later on in the period got the equalizer.

Down 3-1 now and with just under eight minutes to play, the Islanders were given a chance to cut the lead to one with the power play. They converted.

A tic-tac-toe sequence saw Derick Brassard feed Nelson down low who then found an open Barzal in the slot whose shot beat Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott.

Beauvillier would tie the game just 4:18 seconds later to stun the crowd inside Wells Fargo Center.

Neither team could score in overtime, so it was on the shootout. There, both Eberle and Barzal — his sensational move — would score while the Flyers failed in their two attempts.

The Islanders were victorious 4-3 and pulled off one of their best regular-season comebacks in quite some time. The win was also the most memorable of the season.