Getting to the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a driving force for most of John Tavares' career. Now, he said, he'll be pushed by a desire to get back and take the next step: winning a series.
"That's what I'll be thinking about all summer," he said.
The Islanders' star center was reflective after last night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6 of their series, having just left the ice from the most devastating loss of his NHL career to the sounds of the Nassau Coliseum crowd serenading him with a chant of "M-V-P!"
"Hopefully we're going to understand it's going to take even more to win a series," Tavares said. "It's still tough to take it all in right now. It's just disappointing. We wanted to play tomorrow and into June."
Tavares kept talking about never knowing how many chances a player will get in the postseason, but it's hard to imagine he'll be stuck on one for very long. In his first playoff series he was tied for the team lead in goals (3) and points (5) and further exerted himself as the centerpiece of a young up-and-coming team.
"This is something where we want to be every year," he said. "We've got a young group that's going to be together and we found what works for us and what it takes to be successful and we need more of that next year at another level. It's a good step, but we have a lot of work to do."
"He's a special player, an elite player in this league," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "There is no question in my mind that the Hart Trophy is something he has a very good chance at. He's right up there with the other two guys."
Tavares showed his star power when he scored the first goal of the game, taking a pass from Josh Bailey just over five minutes into the game. But it's not just goal-scoring that the Islanders are looking for from Tavares as they move forward with this core group.
"There are a lot of young guys in our locker room who learned a lot from John Tavares this year, not just on the ice but the way he handles himself off the ice," Capuano said. "He's a special guy."
Tavares could also be a useful chip when it comes to luring more talent to the team in free agency. As Capuano pointed out, "good players want to play with good players." The Islanders have at least one. Probably more. But one above the rest.
"The group in this locker room, we understand now what it takes each and every day to be successful and to compete with these teams in the league, especially a great team like Pittsburgh," Tavares said. "We overcame a lot this year and it's just unfortunate we didn't capitalize enough at the right times and make the most of our opportunities.
"I think you see there's something coming here."