Not even the angriest among the sellout crowd of jilted fans on Thursday night at NYCB Lives Nassau Coliseum likely could have imagined it going so well for their Islanders.
Ex-captain John Tavares made his first return to his former home rink after bolting via free agency for a seven-year, $77 million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. The miserable homecoming had less to do with booing and often-profane chants and all to do with how well the Islanders played.
Helped by a three-goal second period, the Islanders thrashed the Maple Leafs, 6-1, before a deafening roar from 13,917.
I think we kind of expected a little bit of that, center Mathew Barzal said of the charged, playoff-like atmosphere. I didnt think it was going to be like that. It was something Ive never played in before.
It was one of the coolest moments of my life, said goalie Robin Lehner, who made 34 saves. Im going to remember this for a long time. I go out in warmups and I always listen to music and try and get into the game. But I couldnt hear it. It was so loud during warmups.
It was a crucial win for the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders (37-19-7). They moved two points ahead of the second-place Capitals who will visit on Friday night after opening this five-game homestand with a 3-1 loss to the Flames on Tuesday night.
It marked the Islanders second dominant performance against the Maple Leafs after a 4-0 win at Toronto on Dec. 29. The teams will play in the Islanders home finale on April 1.
The atmosphere was definitely up there, said Casey Cizikas, whose goal gave him a career-high 18. Thats what you strive for in the playoffs. You want home-ice advantage because you want atmospheres like that on your side.
Garret Sparks made 31 saves for the Maple Leafs (39-21-4), who beat the visiting Oilers, 6-2, on Wednesday night.
The fans showed their spirited displeasure in many ways.
Some plastic snakes were hurled onto the ice during warmups, and there was loud booing every time Tavares touched the puck. The Maple Leafs arrival on the ice was preceded by We Dont Need You chants fans held signs saying the same as well as less-wholesome screaming. As Tavares left the ice after warmups, an Islanders jersey was thrown at him.
Some fans wore Islanders No. 91 jerseys with Tavares nameplate replaced by, among others, Traitor and Pajama Boy. Outside, some Tavares jerseys were burned in garbage bins. Another fan ran over a Tavares jersey with an SUV.
I did expect it was coming, said Tavares, who had five shots on goal in 17 minutes of ice time. No one has walked in my shoes. I know that. I tried to be open and honest. Obviously, no one has to like it.
Not even a classy tribute at 9:59 of the first period, which was drowned out by booing and cursed chants, mollified the crowd. Tavares skated a lap after the 90-second video highlighting his nine seasons with the Islanders, including his community work, and raised his stick in appreciation to the crowd as players from both teams tapped their sticks in respect.
That only brought a JT Sucks chant, followed by Youre a Liar.
They could have maybe given him a round of applause, Cal Clutterbuck said. He put everything he had into winning here. But I understand both sides.
The Islanders led 4-1 through two periods after a potential Maple Leafs equalizer was overturned on an offside challenge.
Anders Lee made it 2-1 off the rush at 4:49, and after Zach Hymans potential goal was waved off at 7:12, Cizikas shorthanded goal made it 3-1 at 13:40. That brought the loudest We Dont Need You chant.
Valtteri Filppula pushed it to 4-1 at 19:00 and Nick Leddys slap shot made it 5-1 just 33 seconds into the third period (Cizikas originally got credit for the goal). Nelson scored at 8:41 and the crowd chanted Whos Your Daddy?
Tavares was on the ice for both first-period goals as Hyman made it 1-0 at 13:33 and Anthony Beauvillier tied it at 16:16 off a three-on-one rush.