The New York Islanders for the second consecutive season have been eliminated in the Semi-final to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After losing in 2OT of Game 6 last season, New York lasted 7 games with the defending champions and after losses in crucial games such as this one, there is usually someone to point a figure for the reason for the loss. So in game 7, who is to blame?
It looked as if the Lightning were going to win this series in six games after a dominating game 5 performance in Amalie Arena. But after a late comeback in game 6, the Islanders were able to force a game 7 and it looked like they were going to have a good chance to win the game. After Wednesday night’s game, the momentum was in their favor, while it was not known whether Nikita Kucherov was going to be able to play.
The Islanders surely had their chances to win this game. They had the game’s only power-play opportunity, which was in the second period and Tampa ended up scoring rather than the Islanders. With this being the only goal of the game, you may want to blame the loss on Semyon Varlamov. But that would not be fair, since Yanni Gourde had an open lane and ripped a laser past Varly. It was not a “soft goal” to let up, it was a good shot. The Islanders, (like they should), have only let up a few short-handed goals this season and the fact that they are going home for this one mistake in letting Gourde be that open makes this loss hurt that much more. I also think that although Varlamov let up a short-handed goal, you have to look at the bigger picture and throughout this whole game Tampa was getting great chances and Varly had to make multiple big saves to just keep his team in the game. Furthermore, without Varlamov, the Islanders would not have made this far in the first place.
Two of New York’s best offensive players in Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier had great chances to tie the game up as well. Following the goal in the second period, Beauvillier hit the crossbar and was so close to evening the game up at 1 apiece. In the winding minutes of 3rd period, Barzal got unlucky as the puck jumped right over his stick and if he had possession chances are he would have tied it up as Vasilevskiy left a ton of space for the puck to get past him. But then again, Barzal and Beauvillier played well this series, and the Islanders as a team were not able to score, not just these two players.
When a team loses like this or a team is unable to pass or reach expectations, usually an immediate person to blame is the head coach. Now in the Islanders case, the person that you can not blame is head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz is in my opinion is the best coach in the NHL, putting any blame on him would be a completely ridiculous thing to do. He is the biggest reason why this team has had so much success these past three years. I truly believe he puts this team in the best shape possible to win every single game. The reason the Islanders lost game 7 was because of a costly mistake while on the powerplay, not because of poor execution/a bad game plan.
A big reason why I think the Islanders lost this series as a whole was that there were too many passing errors and turnovers created in the defensive zone. This team is known for its defensive prowess, and during the duration of this series, a common factor was a lot of passing in the defensive zone. A lot of times it was an extra pass that led to a turnover by a forward, or a defenseman took too long to clear the puck. Doing these things can and oftentimes do lead to disaster. Not only does a turnover in your zone give the opposing team an extra chance to score (the Lightning ended up scoring a couple of goals on turnovers), but it also has an impact on a team’s defensemen. A part of the reason game 5 was such a blowout in Tampa’s favor was that the Isles were exhausted, this was partly due to too much time in the defensive zone trying to prevent the defending champs from getting good looks at the net.
Additionally, the fans at the Arena certainly did not help the Isles spark a comeback as it felt like they were on their feet the entire game cheering for their team, which put even more pressure on New York.
The Islanders did not lose game 7 due to a poor performance by a single player, they were outplayed by a great team who had home-ice advantage. There is no one player or person in the Isles organization that is responsible for this loss.
Photo By: Bruce Bennett