Nassau Coliseum was a loss away from elimination as home to the Islanders. For John Tavares, making sure that did not occur took equal billing to his team remaining in the first round of the playoffs.
Tavares played a big role Saturday in keeping the Islanders alive and gaining a stay of execution for hockey at the Coliseum. He had a goal and an assist in the 3-1 victory over the Capitals that forced Game 7 Monday night in Washington.
Tavares' assist on Nikolay Kulemin's winning goal came as Alex Ovechkin shoved him against the boards, momentarily sending him to the ice. Tavares said he wasn't hurt. There was no way he was coming out of this game.
Tavares committed to the Islanders before Brooklyn and Barclays entered the picture. He was drafted in 2009 and two seasons later signed a six-year extension worth $33 million through 2018. If the Islanders do not return, Tavares eloquently eulogized the building he certainly considers his hockey home.
"It's a special place, I think,'' he said. "There's such a connection with the community, with the team. The team grew up here. It's been here for over 40 years. Obviously, great players and people that have been a part of this. Coming down Hempstead Turnpike and calling this home, and having a major professional team, for me it's become home. You certainly fall in love with it. You certainly enjoy playing in that building. There's no atmosphere like it.
"We wanted to make sure we gave ourselves a chance to come back here and reward [the fans] for everything they've given us and that there's another one and a chance to move on. So we got that Game 7. It's going to be obviously a tough game . . . ''
And one that Tavares will be counted on as the Islanders try to extend their season and their building's hockey life. "He's our leader,'' Frans Nielsen said. "The bigger the game, the better he is. It's how he's been all year for us. It's great to have a guy like that on your team.''
Nielsen said the team believes Game 6 "can't be the next to the last one. I haven't even thought about this could be the last one [at the Coliseum]. I think we have the confidence that we can win the next one and we will have more games here.''
Matt Martin added: "We love playing here. We love being part of this atmosphere. We sure as hell don't want that to end today. We definitely don't want this to be our last game in this building. We'd love to get another series. With every game, it gets louder and louder.''
Tavares said the prospect of playing the final games at the Coliseum has been trying for the fans and the players. "Well, it's difficult for us, too,'' he said. "I think it's an adjustment for everybody. It's going to be a different way of life We just want to keep playing. We don't want this to end.''