The Islanders ultimate goal of winning the 5th Stanley Cup in franchise will have to wait at least another year.
Anthony Cirelli scored at 13:18 of overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 win over the Islanders in game six of the Eastern Conference Final and they advance to meet the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. Cirelli’s shot went off the post and then off the pad of Semyon Varlamov and into the net for the game and series winning goal. Varlamov was brilliant making 46 saves, but the Islanders were not able to pull the game out and force a game seven.
It was a heartbreaking end to the season, but it was a run through August and September that rejuvenated the franchise as it gets ready to open UBS Arena a year from now while also providing plenty of excitement to the fan base.
“A lot of pride, character and resiliency,” said an emotional Islanders Captain Anders Lee after the game. “It’s a special group in our room and till that very last minute, every single one of believe in each other and what we were doing and the road we were on. Obviously, we came up short but there’s a huge sense of pride right now.”
After an amazing run through the summer, the Islanders were unable to reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984. There were ups and downs during the playoffs, but the Islanders were able to claw their way to the NHL’s final four and came within a few goals of playing for the Stanley Cup.
“This is one of the most resilient teams I’ve coached and I’ve coached a long time,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done and the strides we made but we’re obviously very disappointed as a group because this group felt they could represent the East and the second thing is play for the Stanley Cup but we just fell a little bit short.”
Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech did not play after suffering an undisclosed injury early in game five and was replaced in the lineup by rookie Noah Dobson who made his NHL playoff debut.
Trotz said Pelech was able to get through the game on adrenaline but he suffered an injury that will require surgery. Pelech suffered an Achilles tendon injury back on January 2nd and that contributed to the Islanders struggles during the second half of the regular season. The injury was supposed to be season-ending but the pause because of the pandemic gave Pelech time to heal and he was terrific during the post-season.
The Islanders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period on a wraparound goal from defenseman Devon Toews at 4:15, but just over two minutes later, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman scored from the slot after Varlamov had given up a big rebound.
Islanders/Lightning Eastern Conference Final: (Tampa Bay wins 4-2)
Game 1: Monday September 7th…Lightning 8 Islanders 2
Game 2: Wednesday September 9th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1
Game 3: Friday September 11th…Islanders 5 Lightning 3
Game 4: Sunday September 13th…Lightning 4 Islanders 1
Game 5: Tuesday September 15th…Islanders 2 Lightning 1 F/2OT
Game 6: Thursday September 17th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1 F/OT
For the second straight game, the Islanders had to kill off a four-minute high-sticking penalty that stretched from late in the third period in overtime. In game six, it was Andy Greene who took the penalty but once again, the Islanders killed it off and they almost won the game on a shorthanded goal when Brock Nelson could not beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway.
“Anytime Brock has a puck on his stick I think he’s going to score,” said Lee. “He’s had a phenomenal playoff. He was such a leader for us with the goals that he scored and defensive play that he did for us. He was a monster all playoff. Vasilevskiy made a great save.”
Later in the overtime, the Islanders went on the power play when the Lightning had too many men on the ice, but just like through most of the post-season, the Isles couldn’t come through with the man-advantage.
The Islanders had lost their last seven regular season games before the NHL season was suspended in mid-March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but when they arrived in the Toronto bubble to begin the post-season, the caught fire.
“I’m proud of how much they had to commit and how much their families had to commit to this point,” said Trotz when asked about his message to the team after the game. Out of this, we’ve learned to go the distance. The distance is hard so the growth of our group has been really good. We’ll see if we can build on that and take the next step.”
For the first time in 27 years, the islanders made their way to a conference final by beating the Florida Panthers three games to one in the Qualifying Round, the Washington Capitals four games to one in the first round of the playoffs, and then the Philadelphia Flyers four games to three in round two. They now face an off-season that will certainly see the Islanders make some changes to the roster but there is also a great deal of uncertainty as to when and if the 2020-21 NHL season will begin as a result of COVID-19.
One year to the day that the Islanders played their first home pre-season game, an overtime win over the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders’ season came to an end in the Edmonton bubble, also in overtime.