An absolute obliteration in game one, the latest of late goals in game two, a VERY quick response in game four, and to cap it all off, a puck that just squeaked past Semyon Varlamov in overtime of game six.
Safe to say this series was quite painful, for the players and the fans. Just two years ago (in 2018), two years removed from the playoffs, and their franchise star spurning them for the Toronto Maple Leafs that offseason, everyone believed that the Islanders were probably just going to go back to being a basement-dweller. Let’s not forget, five teams from the Metropolitan division made the playoffs that year (including the New Jersey Devils), but the Isles were not one of them.
Things changed drastically the very next season when new head coach Barry Trotz coached a team constructed by Lou Lamoriello back to the playoffs. They would sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, then get swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the next. The team had made it back to the playoffs but had been stimmed in the second round… again.
This season, the Islanders looked to run it back, and they even had themselves a hefty points streak in October and November. But they lost their way and went on a 7-game losing streak that took them to the suspension of the season. Through all the talks on if there would be any playoffs and how they would work, there were those who did not think the Islanders would go far in any type of bracket. Some even contemplated tanking out of the qualifiers for a chance at the first overall pick in this year’s draft.
While they were not perfect by any means, the Islanders convincingly beat the Florida Panthers in a best of five series. Then they showed the Washington Capitals the door in a way that kind of represented a changing of the guard. Teams like the Penguins and the Capitals are no longer the crème of the crop in the Metro, and the Islanders were making room for themselves.
Then came Philadelphia, the top seed in the conference and a division rival. The boys from the Island played a very physical series against the Broad Street Bullies, taking a three-games-to-one series lead. However, they relinquished that lead by losing the next two games in painful overtime fashion. It was starting to look like the Islanders of last 25 years, the ones that would concede and let the other team take the series that was rightfully theirs.
These were not those Islanders. They reminded the league who they were; tenacious, talented, and not to be taken lightly. If they were going out, by god, they were going out with a bang. The final score of game seven was 4-0 Isles; they were off to the conference finals for the first time in 27 years.
It was there that they met a challenge they could not overcome. I already went over how the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Islanders, but the Islanders did not go down easily. A 5-goal performance in game three and an exhilarating game-five victory in double-overtime showed the league that they belonged in the Conference Finals. The Lightning were just the better team.
The Islanders were not perfect in these playoffs in any sense of the term. But they were real good, and they weren’t there to get pushed around.
They will be back next year, and they will compete for a Cup. And our fans will be right there with them.
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