There was a lot to like about the New York Islanders. For a team that nearly missed the postseason after a rough ending to the shortened NHL season, they gave everything they could in their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 1993.
Along the way, the Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers in the Qualifying Round and went on to beat Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in Round 1 before they defeated the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2. While the Islanders were unable to win their fifth Stanley Cup in team history, there is so much to appreciate about Barry Trotz’s team.
Notable Playoff Wins
The Islanders started quickly in their best-of-five series against the young Florida Panthers. They earned two quick wins by scoring early and then put up a five-spot in Game 4 to advance to the Found 1.
They won the opening game against the Capitals but had their most memorable win in overtime in Game 3 to give them a 3-0 series lead. Anders Lee scored the opening goal in the first period, and then Mat Barzal scored his first career postseason overtime goal past Brayden Holtby to help New York win 2-1. They dropped a game but got a shutout from Semyon Varlamov in Game 5 to win the series.
The Flyers gave the Islanders everything they had to beat them with three overtime goals. However, the Islanders got scoring from all four lines throughout the series and played in their first Game 7 since 2015. Trotz gave Thomas Greiss the start and for a second consecutive series, they recieved a shutout from their goaltender who stopped all 16 shots in a 4-0 win.
The Islanders then faced the Tampa Bay Lightning and pulled out victories in two games despite being the weaker team. Their first win came off a Brock Nelson goal in the final four minutes of Game 3 to cut the Lightning’s series lead to 2-1. Then the Isles got a double-overtime goal from Jordan Eberle to force Game 6 before they lost the series.
At times it looked like the Varlamov from 2013-14 when he was a Vezina Trophy Finalist. The veteran netminder gave the Islanders his best, playing 20 of 22 playoff games with an 11-7 record, a .921 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.14.
Varlamov will be most remembered for his epic slide after Eberle’s overtime goal in Game 5, but he played phenomenal throughout. He had back-to-back shutouts and set the Islanders’ postseason record for the longest shutout streak at 138:17. Greiss saw action in three games and made two starts including a shutout in Game 7 of the second round against the Flyers.
It’s easy to see them now that their season is over, but there will be many moments the Islanders will wish they could have back. They fell behind against the Lightning partly because of their seven-game series against the Flyers. Tampa Bay was the more rested team after defeating the Boston Bruins in five games, which hurt the Isles who lost Game 1, 8-2, after traveling to the bubble in Edmonton.
They also had many chances in Game 2, including a five-minute power play after a penalty to Alex Killorn. The Islanders had a lengthy 5-on-3 power play late in the third period but allowed a goal in the final 10 seconds to fall behind 2-0 in the series. They continued to struggle in Game 4 and were 0-3 with the man advantage.
They had many chances in Game 6 to keep the series alive. Cal Clutterbuck had a glorious scoring chance late in the second period but hit the outside of the post. The Islanders were a period away from forcing Game 7 when Brock Nelson came in alone on a short-handed breakaway in overtime and was unable to score; the Lightning won the series shortly after.
The Islanders suffered injuries throughout the regular season but had a healthy roster by the time the playoffs started. Their first injury came in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round when Johnny Boychuk was hurt on a hit from Mike Matheson. He missed most of the playoffs (mostly because of the Islanders’ strong defense) but returned to the lineup as the seventh defender in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The two most significant injuries came later in the playoffs when Casey Cizikas was surprisingly hurt and left the Edmonton bubble with Tom Kuhnakhal. Cizikas was a staple on the NHL’s best fourth line and was missed in the series against the Lightning. Adam Pelech also missed Game 6, which was a massive blow as the young defenseman was having a terrific season alongside Ryan Pulock as the team’s top defenders.
Related: Islanders’ Exclusive 40-Goal Club
There is still so much hope for the future of the Islanders. Many players made the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in their career and they earned some much-needed experience. If general manager Lou Lamoriello can make a couple of moves to better the team, the Isle will be a Stanley Cup contender for years.