TAMPA — The Islanders have been struck by Lightning twice.
For the second straight season, the Islanders fell just short of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, as the Lightning beat them 1-0 Friday night at Amalie Arena to close out the semifinal series and tee up a chance to defend their championship title against the Canadiens.
It was fitting that it was thundering and lightning in Tampa just before puck drop, because the Islanders couldn’t weather the storm as the home team amped up their defense to the point at which the visitors looked static at times.
When the Islanders were supposed to be the ones with the energy, on the lone power play given in the entire game, that was the beginning of the end for their season. A shorthanded goal from the Lightning’s Yanni Gourde at 1:49 of the second period proved to be the only score in the game.
If it weren’t for goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 30 saves on 31 shots, the Islanders would’ve been blown out in the first period, when they were outshot 15-5. But the 33-year-old goalie withstood several lengthy shifts in the Islanders’ zone, denied Victor Hedman on a partial breakaway after defenseman Nick Leddy couldn’t play the puck and swallowed up a Gourde shot on a Tampa Bay 2-on-1 rush that stemmed from an Islanders defensive-zone turnover.
Still, the Islanders established the franchise’s longest playoff run since 1993, when they lost in five games in the conference finals to the Canadiens.
With Friday’s loss, not only did the Islanders’ season come to an end, but also Nassau Coliseum’s run as the team’s home officially expired.
“No matter what they do [in Game 7], they’re forging a legacy of being a team that’s consistently hard to play against, consistently have a great work ethic, consistently a team that cares about each other,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said prior to the loss. “That’s part of the whole legacy. Win or lose, it’s not going to diminish anything. It’s just part of the overall journey for these young men.”
The Islanders’ power play has been a weak spot all season long, but it was detrimental in Friday’s loss. When Barclay Goodrow was penalized for cross-checking Adam Pelech 50 seconds into the second period with the game scoreless, the Islanders actually started off strong.
But once the Lightning cleared their zone and Anthony Cirelli carried the puck to the other end, three Islanders skaters came to challenge Tampa Bay’s second-line center, but lost sight of the rest of the ice. Gourde hopped onto the ice, skated in completely uncontested and buried a shorthanded goal for the 1-0 lead at 1:49 of the middle frame.
Out of desperation in the third, the Islanders generated some quality offensive zone time and poured on seven shots. The Lightning, however, continued to clog the lanes and get their sticks in every play. Varlamov gave the Islanders a fighting chance with four stops in the final 20 minutes, including saves on Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev.
So the Islanders’ special playoff run was ultimately cut short by one of their few deficiencies. They say that Lightning isn’t supposed to strike in the same place twice, but the Islanders evidently are the exception.