The New York Islanders were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing 1-0 in Game 7 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals at Tampa Bay on Friday.
New York finished fourth in the MassMutual East Division during the regular season and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round and the Boston Bruins in six games in the second round. But after forcing Game 7 against the Lightning with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6 at home Wednesday, the Islanders fell one win short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984.
New York was also eliminated by Tampa Bay in six games in the Eastern Conference Final last season.
Here is a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Islanders and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Casey Cizikas, F; Kyle Palmieri, F; Travis Zajac, F; Cole Bardreau, F; Andy Greene, D; Braydon Coburn, D; Cory Schneider, G
Potential restricted free agents: Michael Dal Colle, F; Anthony Beauvillier, F; Kieffer Bellows, F; Dmytro Timashov, F; Adam Pelech, D; Ilya Sorokin, G
Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 6
What went wrong
After being second in the NHL in scoring 3.58 goals per game (43 goals in 12 games) through the first two rounds of the playoffs (behind the Colorado Avalanche, who averaged 3.80 goals per game), the Islanders’ production slowed considerably against the Lightning. New York averaged 1.57 goals per game (11 goals in seven games), did not score more than three goals in any game and was shut out twice in the series. Palmieri, who led the Islanders with seven goals in the first two rounds, didn’t score a point in the semifinals. Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau also didn’t score a point in the series after leading New York with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in the first two rounds.
The Islanders had trouble containing the Lightning power play, which was 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) in the series, and struggled on its own power play. New York was 1-for-17 (5.9 percent) with the man-advantage and gave up a shorthanded winning goal to center Yanni Gourde in Game 7. After center Brock Nelson scored on the Islanders’ second power play in Game 2, they were 0-for-12 the remainder of the series.
Playing from behind
New York was outscored 6-1 in first periods in the series and gave up the first goal in five of the seven games. This was a trend for the Islanders throughout the playoffs; they were outscored 18-8 in first periods, did not lead after the first period in any of their 19 playoff games and allowed the first goal 13 times.
Reasons for optimism
Facing increased defensive attention from opponents, Mathew Barzal started slowly in the playoffs with no goals and three assists in the first seven games. But the 24-year-old center adjusted and scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) over his final 12 games. That included a team-leading five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games in the semifinals.
The rookie goalie’s strong first NHL season after starring in the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia set Sorokin up to eventually inherit the Islanders No. 1 job from Semyon Varlamov. The 25-year-old was 13-6-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts in 22 regular-season games (21 starts). In the playoffs, Sorokin played a big role against Pittsburgh in the first round, going 4-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .943 save percentage.
A healthy Lee
Though forward Anders Lee had season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee and missed the playoffs after he was injured March 11, the Islanders captain resumed skating during the second round and is expected to be ready for the start of next season.