TAMPA — Mathew Barzal tried to seek out the phrases by way of tender sniffles as tears welled up in his eyes. Brock Nelson held his head in his hand, unable to get by way of greater than a sentence at a time. Josh Bailey’s voice trembled, whereas Scott Mayfield stared blankly.
The Islanders had simply come one win, and one purpose, away from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final on Friday evening at Amalie Arena, as they fell 1-0 to the Lightning in Game 7 of the semifinal collection. If the workforce thought they got here shut final season after dropping in six video games to Tampa Bay within the Eastern Conference finals, this time round should’ve felt like they had been inches — no, centimeters — away from incomes an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup for the franchise’s first time in 37 years.
What made the dreary postgame scene all of the tougher to endure, was that the Islanders gamers weren’t feeling sorry for themselves as people, however for one another. It’s the explanation why this playoff run was so particular: The Islanders are a workforce that has undoubtedly competed for each other all season lengthy.
So as Nelson and Mayfield commended goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who saved the Islanders within the recreation with 30 saves, and head coach Barry Trotz proclaimed he wished he might take away his participant’s ache, it was clear the Islanders — from high to backside — had been solely fascinated about one another till the very finish.
“I think it’s tough for everyone,” Barzal mentioned. “It sucks getting back to this point and coming up short again. Got guys like Bails and [Andy Greene], veteran guys. I have a few more years but you want to win for those guys. It hurts seeing those guys in the locker room afterward knowing how close we were.”
Once the sting of a Game 7 loss wears off, the Isles ought to be capable of positively mirror on a memorable playoff run. Not solely did they show that final season’s convention finals look wasn’t a fluke, however they pushed the defending champions to the brink and fell brief by a single purpose on the highway.
The Islanders had been tenacious, relentless and unapologetically performed to their strengths all postseason. There was Bailey’s double-overtime winner in Game 6 of the second spherical towards the Penguins, the New York Saints rebrand (courtesy of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy) within the second-round collection towards Boston and Ryan Pulock’s save heard around the Island in Game 4 of the semifinals this previous week.
The scent of cigarettes and beer permeated the air, and Bud Light tall boys blanketed the ice, on the final Islanders recreation at Nassau Coliseum Wednesday evening when Anthony Beauvillier’s extra time winner compelled Game 7.
“I don’t think back to back being the last four teams is a fluke,” Mayfield mentioned. “I don’t know if too many people believed in us the first couple rounds, but we believed in ourselves.”
Alas, the offseason is now upon the Islanders. The group is already up towards the 2021-22 cap, the enlargement draft listing is due in three weeks, and there are vital restricted free brokers to maintain in Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin. A choice will must be made concerning unrestricted free brokers Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, as nicely.
Is Oliver Wahlstrom, the rookie sharpshooter who misplaced his lineup spot to Zajac after getting injured in Round 1, able to tackle a extra vital function subsequent season? Is this the tip of the highway for the Identity Line? What do the Islanders need to do to lastly break by way of to the Stanley Cup Final?
These are all questions that can must be answered earlier than the beginning of the 2021-22 season, which is to start in early October. It’s in all probability for one of the best that it’ll be a brief offseason. Less time for the Islanders to dwell on the heartbreak.
Oh, and let the UBS Arena era begin.