For the second straight postseason, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning battled it out for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately, this postseason ended exactly like last year’s… in heartbreak for the Isles.
Congratulations to the Lightning, again. They have an amazing team that has a pretty good shot at repeating as Stanley Cup champions. But Isles fans alike can’t help but wonder what went wrong. So with that said, here’s the third (and unfortunately, final) installment of my 2021 playoff recap series. Let’s get into it, five takeaways from the Stanley Cup Semifinals:
For the first time during this magical playoff run, the Islanders finally ran into a goalie (and defensive system, for that matter) that managed to shut them down offensively. Over the course of the seven-game bloodbath against the Lightning, the Isles scored a grand total of 11 goals (coming out to around 1.6 goals per game). For reference, the Isles scored 21 goals in their six-game triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins (3.5 goals per game) and lit the lamp 22 times in round two against the Boston Bruins (3.66 goals per game). In both of the first two series, the Isles seemed to have at least one game (or more) where their offense seemed to break through and score in bunches, oftentimes propelling them to victory. That wasn’t the case against the Bolts. Even in two of their three wins, the zenith of the Isles’ goal scoring was three goals. Three goals is usually a good output in a playoff game, but not against a Lightning team that has a ton of explosive and dynamic offensive talent that can seemingly score at will. Andrei Vasilevskiy also stole the show for Tampa Bay, posting two shutouts and making several sensational saves in the series win.
Power play struggles
The Isles’ scoring woes weren’t just at even strength. Their power play numbers were horrendous. Through the seven games against the Lightning, the Isles only managed to convert once on 17 power-play opportunities, which equates to a measly 5.8%. Their lone goal on the man advantage came in Game 2, on a tally from Brock Nelson. Outside of that, the Isles had as bad of a power play as you could imagine, and that power-play goal in Game 2 even has an asterisk next to it in my opinion given it was scored on a Brayden Point goaltender interference call that arguably wasn’t a penalty. Ironically enough, the Isles’ power play proved to be the final nail in the coffin in more ways than one. It’s no secret the Lightning possess an incredible power play, and the Islanders needed to stay out of the box if they wanted any chance at winning this series. Flash forward to Game 7, the Islanders are on the power play (the only PP of the game for either side). There was a goal on that power play… but it wasn’t the Islanders. Yanni Gourde got the Lightning on the board shorthanded (the only shorthanded marker the Isles have allowed all season long) and it would wind up being the game-winner.
Amalie Arena: House of horrors
Going into the playoffs, one big area of concern was how the Isles could hold up playing on the road. We all know the regular season dominance from the blue and orange at home this past season (21-4-3 record), but the road record was disappointing, to say the least (11-13-4). That being said, starting out on the road didn’t seem to be an issue for New York in rounds one and two. In their series against Pittsburgh and Boston, respectively, the Islanders took care of business on the road, going 4-2 in six combined road games. After a thrilling 2-1 victory in Game 1 against the Lightning, there was potential for the success on the road to continue. That’s also when the wheels would fall off the bus, as the Isles would lose their next three road games, including pivotal moments in Games 5 and 7. To make matters worse, the Islanders (who hadn’t been shutout at all following Game 4) lost Games 5 and 7 by a combined score of 9-0 (not like anyone needs to be reminded of the 8-0 thrashing). To sum up, this isn’t the first playoff series where the Islanders have struggled in Tampa. In fact, looking at the all-time stats in playoff games through three playoff series in 2004, 2016, and 2021 (not including the 2020 East Final given it was at a neutral location in the bubble) between these two teams at Amalie Arena, the Islanders hold a 3-7 record, in which they have a goal differential of minus-17 (14 goals for, 31 goals against), as well as being shutout four times.
Where was the third line?
Through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, one thing the Islanders could boast about was strong depth scoring coming from their bottom-six forwards. That includes the third-line trio of Kyle Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Travis Zajac. Well, it seemed their magic ran out after the Bruins series, and they were pretty lackluster to put it nicely. Through the seven games of the semis, none of them even registered a point. Sure, they got on the scoresheet under certain statistical categories (shots and hits, specifically), but going pointless through seven games in the Conference Final is definitely disappointing. However, although some fans might not see it the same way, I’ll grant this line a bit of a pass. Pageau just wasn’t himself, not a ton of jump or energy for a player who’s one of the “heart and soul” guys on the team. Barry Trotz mentioned Pageau had “tweaked” something in the Isles’ loss in Game 2, now I guess we wait and see what the severity of his injury was. Palmieri was decent in this series as well, had a lot of quality scoring chances but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Not much to say about Zajac, whose most notable accomplishment in this series was taking six total penalty minutes in Game 2.
Goodbye, Nassau Coliseum
This takeaway wasn’t necessarily from the play on the ice, but rather one that became apparent after the series was over. As the Isles wrapped up their first-round series against Pittsburgh, Brendan Burke added to his collection of iconic calls when he said “This old Barn still has some stories to tell.” As if a loss in Game 7 of the Conference Finals wasn’t gut-wrenching enough, the reality began to set in: Nassau Coliseum’s last story has already been told. The first and only real home (and no, I’m not counting the Barclays Center in that statement) the Islanders and their fans have ever known won’t be hosting hockey games anymore… at least not that we currently know of. I suppose there’s always a chance of a preseason game or maybe even some regular-season home games early next season before the grand opening of UBS Arena, but we’ll have to see what happens. For now, it looks as if Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime winner in Game 6 will be the last amazing playoff moment to happen on Coliseum ice. From the dynasty years in the ’80s to Ryan Pulock’s goal-line save in Game 4 of the semis and everything in between, the moments and memories in that building will stick with players and fans alike forever. UBS Arena is going to be fantastic, but nothing will ever compare to the feel of the Coliseum on game day. Farewell, Fort Neverlose… or is it “see you later”?
Follow Carter on Twitter @cbentivenga14