After the Islanders’ season ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the Eastern Conference Final back on September 17th in Edmonton, there was certainly a lot of sadness and disappointment. The Islanders fell two wins short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final and they were six wins away from the 5th Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. While it was the Islanders’ best playoff run in 27 years, the pain of having their time in the bubble come to an end was a tough pill to swallow.
The accomplishments during the playoffs, including series wins over the Panthers, Capitals, and Flyers, cannot be brushed aside and it electrified the fan base watching on television back home on Long Island, but the overwhelming emotion at the time was obvious and understandable.
The way the season ended was painful.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done and the strides we made,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz not long after game six ended. “But we’re obviously very disappointed as a group because this group felt it could represent the east and the second thing was hopefully play for the Stanley Cup but we just fell a little bit short.”
Islanders Now Have To Turn The Page:
A month later, the Islanders have turned their attention to what has already been and will continue to be a busy off-season as they prepare for a 2020-21 season that currently has a lot of mystery surrounding it because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are so many unknowns including when the season will start although the NHL is targeting January 1st. There is also the matter of how many games will be on the schedule, where the games can be played, and if fans will be able to attend.
But while there is a lot of excitement surrounding the Islanders heading into next season, and the season after with the opening of UBS Arena, there is still the matter of turning the page on losing to Tampa Bay and the sting that is still being felt.
“There’s always going to be that sting of not completing what we set out to do,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee this past Monday on a Zoom meeting with the media. “But I look back on it right now a month out and its still pretty special. We learned a lot. We did a lot. I think that sting and that disappointment is going to…it will never leave you I don’t think.. But I think it is something that we can handle and grow from.”
Lots Of Items On The Islanders To-Do List:
How the 2019-20 Islanders grow into the 2020-21 Islanders is currently a work in progress.
While the team is trying to put pen to paper on new contracts with restricted free agents Mat Barzal and Ryan Pulock, defenseman Devon Toews, also an RFA, was recently traded to Colorado for a pair of second round draft picks. The Islanders are also trying to clear some salary cap room, not just to sign their own players including unrestricted free agents Matt Martin and Andy Greene, but perhaps to improve the roster via free agency and trades.
Toews was jettisoned to the Avalanche because 2018 first round pick Noah Dobson has been deemed ready by the organization to step into a top-six blueline role but also because of the uncertainty on what type of salary Toews was going to get via arbitration. There have been reports that defenseman Johnny Boychuck is being shopped around and there could be other players moved like defenseman Nick Leddy along with forwards Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov.
Islanders Still Trying To Climb The Mountain:
As the Islanders move further away from their amazing play run this past season, there is a plan in place to build on their post-season success and take the next step in 2020-21.
“I think that what we have to do first of all is focus in on what we’ve accomplished and what the differential is to how much better we can get internally,” said President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello during his end of season press conference on September 29th. “Because there’s just so much ice time that you can allot different people and we have to evaluate ourselves.”
For the first since 1993, the Islanders were in the NHL’s version of the final four. With a few more goals and perhaps a little more puck luck, the Islanders might have been able to complete the road to the Stanley Cup but that’s a moot point now. The reality is that they did come up short and there are improvements that have to be made for next season.
The Islanders now have to shake off that sting and continue to climb the mountain towards hoisting the cup and earning a ring.