They may not be able to let it sink in just yet, with the sting of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins ending the Islanders' playoff run last night, but this team has accomplished quite a bit in this condensed season.
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Even as the dejected Isles shook hands with the Penguins, the Nassau Coliseum crowd chanted for the home team after it was eliminated. And the Penguins players offered more than just hollow congratulations.
"We respected their team and the way they played," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "They are going to be in a lot of playoffs."
But the Islanders are out of this first one in six years, unable to hold a 3-2 lead into the final minutes of the third, with Paul Martin's shot deflecting off Frans Nielsen's stick and past Nabokov with 5:16 left in regulation to tie it.
There were other negatives, like the Isles going 0-for-3 on the power play in Game 6 and just 2-for-20 for the series. Kyle Okposo and Keith Aucoin both had chances on two-on-ones with the Isles clinging to that 3-2 lead in the third, but both were denied by Vokoun.
"It was the ability to score when we had chances and special teams," Jack Capuano said.
The differences were painfully slim between the top-seeded Penguins and the Islanders.
"It literally could have gone either way," Travis Hamonic said. "That's the most frustrating thing about it."
The Isles grabbed the lead twice in the first period, with John Tavares scoring his third of the series and Colin McDonald tapping in a feed from Aucoin with 37 seconds left in the first for a 2-1 lead.
Capuano said his players had nothing to be ashamed of. After going 11-2-4 over the final 17 games of the regular season to grab a playoff berth, not many observers gave the Isles a puncher's chance against the Penguins.
Despite a Game 1 no-show and a disappointing Game 5 performance, the Isles were the more forceful team for a greater chunk of the series.
"We took some big strides as an organization," Capuano said. "Not many people gave us a chance to do some of the things we did. Anybody that watched the games, that saw the crowd . . . I'm sure we've got some respect around the league right now."
And certainly the respect of their opponents.
"Going through the [handshake] line, hearing what some of their guys said . . . 'You guys are a good team,'" McDonald said. "I don't think a lot of guys around here have heard that in a while."
"And the crowd, to do that at the end of the game, at a tough time, I thought that was awesome. To be acknowledged in a bad situation is something we can hang our hats on."
The Islanders had a strong sense that they were close to pulling off a significant upset.
"We could have taken a bigger lead, but we couldn't do it," Tavares said. "They stayed with it and that's ultimately why they're moving on."