After losing two crushing overtime home losses in their Eastern conference semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders can have the entire offseason to lament their four straight loses.
After winning Game 1 here at Amalie Arena, the Islanders lost the next four games, swept aside by a combination of superior Tampa Bay talent and tough luck.
It culminated in a 4-0 shutout in Game 5 on Sunday that ended the Islanders’ longest playoff run in 23 years and lifted the Lightning to their second consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, set to face the winner of the Pittsburgh-Washington series for a chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
“The difference in the series was, offensively, they took advantage of their opportunities, and we couldn’t find a way these last few games to score some goals,” Islanders Coach Jack Capuano said. “If there’s one thing that you have to look back on, it is the inability and ineffectiveness to get some offense.”
The Islanders were shut out for the first time this postseason. They had clicked offensively while knocking off the Florida Panthers, the No. 2 seed, in a riveting first-round series, and after a 5-3 victory in Game 1, a long playoff run appeared to be possible.
“We had an incredible run and were on the fun side of things,” Islanders center Frans Nielsen said. “We’ve seen the brutal side of it, too.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 28 shots on Sunday, turning aside a few point-blank chances early in the game that could have swung momentum to the Islanders. The Islanders’ Thomas Greiss made 21 saves, but he appeared to be under constant siege compared with Bishop’s play.
“Once you’ve tasted it, the highs and the lows and everything that goes with it, you want to get back again,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said of his team’s determination to close out the Islanders and return to the conference finals.
Victor Hedman scored two goals, and Brian Boyle had one as the Lightning took a 3-0 lead into the third period. After Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov scored on a breakaway at 4 minutes 40 seconds of the third period, the celebration at Amalie Arena in Tampa only grew louder as the crowd serenaded the Islanders, singing “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!”
“It’s the way playoff hockey is,” the Islanders’ Matt Martin said. “They found a way to win games, and we didn’t, but we’ll learn from it. It’s a credit to them. They are a very good hockey team. They were in the Cup finals last year for a reason.”
“Start to finish, we played really well,” Boyle said. “We were hard on the pucks. We made sure we got the puck in deep. We didn’t turn it over in the neutral zone and give them opportunities. We played a great game.”
“We obviously played some good hockey at times, but we just let those two games at home slip away, and that put us behind the eight ball,” Islanders’ captain, John Tavares said. “We got off to an O.K. start, but they came back hard and capitalized on a couple opportunities.”
The overtime losses in Games 3 and 4 had a lingering effect on the Islanders, who appeared deflated after the Lightning took a 2-0 lead and were continually demoralized by Bishop.
“You don’t want to go dry at this time of the year,” Capuano said. “You look at Games 3 and 4 and the opportunities that we had to score, the two-on-ones, a couple other chances that we had that could have turned the series the other way. But you can’t look back. Tampa Bay played a great series.”