During his press conference after the early skate Saturday morning, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano suggested his team had the same attributes as their dynastic predecessors.
The early 1980s Islanders were one of the legendary teams in NHL history. But before they won four Cups in four years, there was a five-year period of devastating playoff losses. They lost before they won.
It is a painful lesson the 2013 edition learned all too excruciatingly as their renaissance season ended Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Pittsburgh won the best-of-seven series, 4-2, and will meet the Senators in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Overtime and they get a lucky shot. It really [ticks] you off. It really does,” Travis Hamonic said. “I think that we played really well. We could’ve won the series — should’ve, in my opinion. It leaves a bitter, sour taste for the rest of the summer.
“It’s going to take awhile — weeks — to digest this.”
Brooks Orpik’s goal 7:49 into the extra session was the series clincher. Orpik’s slapshot appeared to deflect off Brad Boyes before it sailed past Evgeni Nabokov (32 saves).
“I’m not even sure how that last one went in,” Matt Martin said.
As the Penguins mobbed each other along the half boards in celebration, the crowd of 16,170 who packed the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike began chanting “MVP!” toward Hart Trophy-finalist John Tavares and “Let’s Go Islanders.”
It was a final tribute to a team which defied expectations while giving their supporters a first taste of a tantalizing future.
“They’re going to be in the playoffs for a long time,” Sidney Crosby said.
Last night, in the do-or-die game, it was the Islanders who controlled the vast majority of play due to their hitting and speed. The eighth seed outhit the top-seeded Penguins 31-23, and forced 15 takeaways compared to Pittsburgh’s six.
By being able to implement the speed and physical elements of their game, the Islanders were able to generate offense. The Islanders had a 38-21 advantage in shots on goal, and had a 73-56 advantage in attempted shots.
“We showed we [can] play with anyone,” Martin said. “We’re excited about the future.”
Tavares opened the scoring with a snapshot goal 5:36 into the match. The marker ended the Islanders’ goalless streak of 143:18 against Tomas Vokoun dating back to March 22.
The lead lasted all of 123 seconds. Jarome Iginla tied the game 2:03 later by shoving the rebound of a Sidney Crosby shot past Nabokov.
Not being able to build upon a lead was a game- and series-long theme for the Islanders, who had leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 Saturday night, but were unable to extend the advantage.
“We just couldn’t get that second-goal lead,” Hamonic said.
Another aspect that felled the Islanders was an ineffective power play. The Islanders finished the series 2-for-20 on the man advantage, and were 0-for-3 in Game 6. All three power plays came in the second period.
“Pretty much all year they had a good [penalty kill],” Capuano said of the Penguins. “They were consistent. We had our chances. It’s not like we didn’t have chances tonight. We had [Matt] Moulson on the back door, just weren’t able to bury it.
“I thought our adjustments as we moved along helped us a little bit, but we talk about health, luck, goaltending and special teams in the playoffs. Their special teams were better than ours.”
Yet in the immediate aftermath, there was an unmistakable sense of pride and accomplishment emanating from the Islanders room. The franchise’s five-year long rebuilding process has begun to bear fruit, and there was already a collective eye looking toward the 2013-14 season and beyond.
“We took huge strides as an organization. Not many people gave us a chance to get where we got,” Capuano said. “Anybody that watched the games, saw the crowd and the atmosphere in the building, we got some respect around the league right now. We got good players. To attract some players, they want to play with good players. They should realize now we have a good young core of guys, some good veterans, and I'm sure it opened some eyes for people around the league that will be unrestricted.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.