Jaroslav Halák and The Worst Sports Moment Ever
Updated: Mar 25
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
In sports, there will be more agony than thrills -- unless you've lived in Boston for the past 20 years. When your team reaches the heights of success, it's a feeling of euphoria that won't be forgotten. But you'll never forget those heartbreaking moments either, which makes the thrill of victory even greater once it's achieved.
For me, as a New York Yankees, Giants, Knicks, and Islanders fan, I've had plenty of both. But those heartbreaking moments will always stay with me as much as the wins -- maybe even more than the wins. I can't imagine what Mets and Jets fans go through.
The Yankees have been the most stable team in my life. They won the '98 World Series a month after I was born and only missed the playoffs once (2008) until 2013. If the worst Yankees moment of my life is Derek Jeter breaking his ankle in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, I'll take Jeter's five rings and run.
The Giants have provided plenty of heartbreak, but it's overshadowed by them defeating Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice. I could have easily written this article on Eagles' WR DeSean Jackson returning a game-winning punt to complete a 28 point comeback as time expired, which prevented the Giants from going to the playoffs. However, the following season the Giants won the Super Bowl, so I kind of got over it.
The Knicks (lol) -- maybe next week's quarantine project will be writing a piece on all the laughable moments that occurred on top of the 20 years of losing. We can start with Isiah Thomas' tenure as Knicks president, to Derrick Rose going AWOL, to the James Dolan and Charles Oakley saga. The Knicks' only good recent season (2012-13) is remembered by Pacers' Roy Hibbert blocking Carmelo Anthony en route to Indiana clinching a second-round playoff win against the Knicks.
Then there are the Islanders, who have essentially been considered one of the laughingstocks in the NHL since they won four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83).
The 2014-15 Islanders looked like they were finally turning a corner while playing their final season at Nassau Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn. (Yes, the Islanders moved back partially to the newly refurbished Coliseum in 2018 and will play a full season there in 2020-21).
That offseason the Islanders signed Jaroslav Halak to solidify the goalie position that was a mess for years. They traded for two Stanley Cup-winning defensemen in Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy. Star captain John Tavares was playing at an MVP level and the Isles finished the calendar year of 2014 tied for first place in their division -- the first time in 27 years. Every night Nassau Coliseum was electric and it was one of the most magical atmospheres I've ever personally witnessed.
On February 19, Jaroslav Halak set the franchise record for regular-season wins in a single season. However, injuries plagued the Islanders and they started to back their way into the postseason. Barring a miracle, the Islanders still had a chance for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
It was April 7, 2015, the 80th game of the season. The Isles had a chance to officially clinch a playoff spot in Philadelphia against the Flyers. However, all hope seemed lost when the Isles fell down 4-1 in the third period. I remember keeping the game on as background noise, aggravated that I'd have to wait for another game to see them clinch.
Rookie Anders Lee cut the lead in half with 11:39 left in the third period. A point, let alone a win, was still a longshot. With about two minutes left Jack Capuano, the Islanders' head coach, pulled Halak. Boychuck slapped one in with 1:45 left to make it a one-goal game. Good effort, but no way the Isles were going to another goal with their net empty for another 1:45, right? Man, I hoped I was wrong.
I was. With 30 seconds left, Tavares won a face-off against Claude Giroux and shifted the puck to a wide-open Lee right above the crease, tying the game at four with 28 seconds left. I was literally dancing.
Then the unfathomable happened. As 26 seconds went by, the game was destined for OT. With time about to expire, Flyers' center Brayden Schenn wristed a shot just past the blue line for a last-second miracle. The puck bounced in-between Jaroslav Halak's legs and landed in the back of the net.
5-4 Flyers. 2.1 seconds left. Game over.
One of the greatest comebacks I've ever seen had turned into the worst loss I've ever witnessed.
The Islanders would clinch their playoff berth two days later when the Panthers defeated the Bruins. Yes, you're glad when your team clinches, but that's not a fun way to do it.
The Islanders would face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. They lost home-ice advantage by one point in the standings. They would lose that series in Game 7 on the road. The Islanders did play that series without defenseman Travis Hamonic, which could have changed the outcome of that series.
However, If Jaroslav Halak stopped the puck that night against the Flyers, the Islanders would have played a potential Game 7 at an electric Nassau Coliseum. They then would have played the President Cup-winning Rangers in the second round. The Islanders beat the Rangers twice that year. Who knows how different the Islanders franchise would be moving forward if they had home-ice that season and beat the Capitals to move on and play the Rangers.
The following season the Islanders played a classic six-game series against the Panthers to win their first playoff round in 23 years. Yet, I dedicated an entire piece about a regular-season loss as opposed to a legendary double-overtime series-clinching goal by a player who shall not be named.
Ugh, the agony of defeat.