The festivities started in the parking lot, as they often do at Nassau Coliseum, though this was anything but a typical pregame party.
Islanders fans circled Feb. 28 on their calendars the moment John Tavares left their beloved team in free agency to play for his hometown Maple Leafs. They were waiting for this day, when they'd wear their modified No. 91 jerseys with "Traitor" covering Tavares on the nameplate. They poured beer on and burned Tavares jerseys. They had signs made to bring into the old barn with them.
This night was the culmination of eight months of pent up anger, and Isles fans unleashed their fury from the moment Tavares stepped onto the Coliseum ice for warmups through the final horn Thursday as the Islanders routed Tavares and the Maple Leafs, 6-1, in the former Isles captain's first road game on Long Island after signing a seven-year, $77 million deal on July 1 with Toronto.
"No one's walked in my shoes," Tavares said after the game. "I just tried to be open and honest. Obviously no one has to like my decision, but I just tried to explain what it is and how I got to that point. So it is what it is."
A plastic snake was thrown at Tavares during warmup, and a jersey was tossed in his direction as he departed the ice at the end of warmup.
Expletives were hurled at him all evening, most ferociously when he took the ice for his first shift 18 seconds into the game. "We don't need you!" became a familiar refrain as the Isles built their lead throughout the game, an allusion to the Isles sitting atop the Metropolitan Division entering the evening.
Perhaps the most surreal moment of the night was when the Islanders played a tribute video for Tavares midway through the first during a television timeout, and the crowd booed during the entire video. Tavares then clapped his gloves briefly in appreciation of the video, but the fans just kept letting him hear it.
There was a "You're a liar!" chant, the fans feeling scorned after Tavares' many comments about loving the Isles organization and Long Island. There were "JT sucks!" chants, the raucousness growing and growing as the Isles opened up a three-goal lead in the second period after being tied 1-1 through 20 minutes.
(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)
After Brock Nelson made it 6-1 in the middle of the third, the fans got more creative. A Pedro Martinez-like "Who's your daddy" chant broke out as the fans reveled in the blowout. "It's your bedtime!" and "Where's your jammies?!" ribbed Tavares for the photo he tweeted on July 1 of himself as a child wearing Maple Leafs pajamas.
"I've been in a lot of louds buildings. This is the loudest one I've been in so far," said Robin Lehner, who made 34 saves for the Isles.
Anthony Beauvillier tied the game 1-1 in the first before Anders Lee, who followed Tavares as Isles captain, Casey Cizikas (SHG) and Valtteri Filppula scored in the second. Nick Leddy put the Isles up 5-1 just 33 seconds into the third.
We're only left to imagine the hostility that would've taken place if Tavares scored as he was held off the scoresheet. But this was a night of therapy for Islanders fans, one they would go home from smiling from ear-to-ear as they sent Tavares back home with a butt-kicking.
The Islanders have another huge game on Friday as they host the Capitals at 7 p.m. The division-leading Isles hold a two-point lead over Washington.