This was exactly the sort of moment John Tavares would have dreamed about if only he had been able to sleep Saturday night. Truth is, he had a fitful time of it because he was so excited about the noon playoff game and the chance to play it at Nassau Coliseum.
He had gotten a taste of the atmosphere here in the postseason two years ago, and he felt like a little kid at Christmas while waiting for it again. By the time the day was done, of course, he was The Man.
An appreciative student of Islanders history, Tavares wound up making some. He evoked all kinds of good memories with his goal 15 seconds into overtime and created indelible new ones among the fans who witnessed a perfect Islanders day.
Fans got to witness an Islanders classic, one that ranks up there with J.P. Parise's goal 11 seconds into overtime 40 years ago against the Rangers. In the first of the last -- the first playoff game in the final season at the Coliseum -- they saw their captain and superstar beat the Capitals, 2-1, to give the Islanders a 2-1 series lead. And they were good and ready to see that, having filled the parking lot with blue-orange-and-white-themed tailgate parties early in the morning.
They were there when Tavares pulled up at 9:15 a.m. and they were there, loud and strong at the end, chanting "M-V-P" in honor of the man who was sending them home happy.
"It was unreal. There's no place like this place. There's no building that can challenge this," said Tavares, who was filled with energy for a guy who had reason to be tired.
"I didn't sleep very well last night,'' he said. "I think the anticipation of the game, and it being an early game. You're so excited, so looking forward to it, especially the way it was a couple years ago . . . "
For the record, coach Jack Capuano said the building was louder yesterday than it was in 2013 against the Penguins.
Tavares was featured in a stirring video shown on the Coliseum screen before the game. The Islanders juxtaposed historic clips with scenes from this season. It was a neat multi-era mix, with Michael Peca, Pat LaFontaine and many others. They showed a close-up of Denis Potvin, the great captain, and then one of Tavares, who is establishing his own chops as captain. They played Mike Bossy's acrobatic goal against the Canucks, then footage of Tavares tumbling while putting one in the net.
Nothing, though, could compare with the sight of Tavares gathering the puck at a steep angle to the left of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and managing to thread it through a tiny opening. They will be playing that highlight for years on the (off-center) scoreboard at Barclays Center.
Never had an Islander scored a playoff goal so quickly in a Coliseum game. It was a far cry from other Islanders overtime winners against the Capitals: LaFontaine in a fourth overtime, Brian Mullen and Ray Ferraro in double overtime. "Well, it was an early game,'' Tavares said, "so we had all day if we needed to."
"He's one of the best players in the league. He's a catalyst. It was pretty fitting that he would score," said Kyle Okposo, a teammate since Tavares arrived in 2009 (and whose inside information said the tailgating began at 7 in the morning).
The captain plays as if he has the Islanders crest on his heart as well as his jersey. He reveres the tradition. "Bobby Ny's OT overtime clincher. That was certainly something special," said Tavares, familiar with Bobby Nystrom and the 1980 Stanley Cup. "This is not quite there, but any time you get an OT winner, it's exciting."
Fact is, before Sunday, no Islander had scored an overtime playoff goal since David Volek beat the Penguins in Game 7 in the 1993 series. That was the last time the Islanders won a playoff series. Maybe the end of one drought will lead to the end of another.
Anyway, it was loud and clear yesterday that the captain, his team and their fans weren't ready to give up the Coliseum without a fight. They weren't going quietly. They had a dream day.