Ladies and Gentlemen, Islanders fans of all ages, where do I begin? Just 48-hours ago the Islanders were flying high, while carefully avoiding the empty beer cans that rained down from all corners of Nassau Coliseum in euphoric celebration following Anthony Beauvillier’s Game Six overtime-winning goal.
Now? Now their season is over. It seems to be a fate too cruel to be real and yet…
Friday night, down in Tampa, Florida, the Islanders’ season was shot and buried by the Lightning in a 1-0 Game Seven loss that will undoubtedly have long-lasting repercussions for the franchise. The Boys from Long Island head into the off-season with a litany of questions, not many answers and not a whole lot of cash to spread around after allowing just a single short-handed goal in the Seventh game of the Semi-Finals.
For the third time in six-seasons the Islanders had their Stanley Cup dreams shattered by the Lightning, a team who didn’t even exist when the Isles ruled the NHL in the early 1980’s. Their 2015-16 loss stung. Their loss last year in the bubble hurt. This one? This one hits differently.
The 2020-21 Islanders had THAT feel about them. Sure, they weren’t the most dominating team in these playoffs; far from it. But they had that unexplainable feeling of destiny. You had Ilya Sorokin, a rookie goaltender, steal not just a game, but an entire series against Pittsburgh in Round One. You had Semyon Varlamov return to take back his throne in the Second-Round against Boston. There was Ryan Pulock’s Game Four “Save of the Decade” heroics several days ago. And there was Anthony Beauvillier’s Game Six miracle just 48-hours ago.
This team had what it took, until it didn’t.
Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene are pending UFA’s. Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin are pending RFA’s. There are others whose contracts will also expire in the coming weeks, but those are the key ones.
Captain Anders Lee has been seen skating on his own the last several weeks as he rehabs from ACL surgery. All the reports say he’ll be ready for Training Camp, whenever that may be. But will there be any side effects? Any lasting effects that will compromise one of the key cogs in the Isles’ lineup?
Will UBS Arena be ready for Opening Day? Sources say “yes,” but nobody can say definitively that the Isles’ new home will be ready when the season opens. And now that Nassau Coliseum has seen its last game — what a game it was! — what happens to The Old Barn?
Those are just the surface level questions. There are many that run far deeper. But that’s a column for another day. Right now, let’s take a moment to grieve and for those of you who want to relieve the Isles final game of the 2020-21 season one last time, here it is.
The Lightning were buzzing early as Semyon Varlamov was forced to make a couple nice saves, including one on Alex Killorn. The Islanders were hemmed in their zone for much of the first two-minutes, but then, out of nowhere, Game Six hero Anthony Beauvillier broke loose for a partial breakaway. Beauvillier had Andrei Vasilevskiy down and out but Tampa’s netminder got his right pad on the shot at the last second to keep the puck out of the net.
A key play in the Islanders zone followed moments later as Andy Greene made a crucial block in front of Varlamov on a shot from Tyler Johnson at the 7:33 mark of the first period.
Varlamov then bailed out Nick Leddy after Leddy missed the puck on a high pass that turned into a breakaway for Victor Hedman. So, through 11-minutes of play, Varlamov had made seven-saves, each magnified by the gravity of the moment.
The rest of the first period followed a similar formula. The Lightning got pucks in deep, cycled the puck, got shots towards Varlamov and used their defense to activate the offense. However, the Islanders followed a familiar formula as well and it was “shots towards Semyon Varlamov equals saves” as their netminder came up with 14 key stops.
So, after 20-minutes of play, the Islanders and Lightning were tied 0-0.
In the second period Barclay Goodrow cross-checked Adam Pelech in the back 50-seconds into the frame to send the Islanders to their first power-play of the game. Unfortunately, Ryan McDonagh made a nice block in front of Vasilevskiy and eventually Yanni Gourde buried the pass from Anthony Cirelli past Varlamov for the short-handed goal to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead 1:49 into the period.
That goal gave Tampa even more of an edge than it had in the first period as the Lightning used their speed, skill and forecheck to completely control the first 8:13 of the second period. The Islanders were chasing the puck without managing to sustain any bit of pressure against Tampa and leaned heavily on Varlamov to keep them in the game.
Things continued to flow Tampa’s way for much of the second period as the Lightning’s speed and forecheck were too much for the Islanders to handle. In fact, the Isles didn’t register a shot on goal for 11-minutes and 23-seconds during the middle of the period.
The Islanders finally showed some small signs of life in the final three-minutes of the middle period, but it wasn’t enough as they entered the third period down 1-0 and were just 20-minutes away from elimination.
On to the third period and Brock Nelson had a quality scoring chance 47-seconds into the period, but was unable to beat Vasilevskiy. After that the Isles generated nothing for several long minutes. On the flip side, the Lightning were held to no shots on goal for the first 7:03 of the period as defense reigned supreme on both sides.
That proved to be the case for the rest of the third period as well as the Islanders were unable to get a single puck past Vasilevskiy, who shut them out to win Game Seven for the Lightning.
The Isles went 0-for-1 on the power-play to go to 1-for-17 in the series and 10-for-49 in the playoffs…The Isles went 0-for-0 on the penalty-kill to go to 11-for-16 in the series and 27-for-42 in the playoffs…This was the first time in their franchise history the Islanders were shutout in Game Seven.