Undone by a misfiring power play that went 1-for-17 in the series, the New York Islanders allowed the game-winning shorthanded goal to Yanni Gourde in the second period to fall 1-0 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at Amalie Arena.
With it, the Islanders season ends in heartbreak in the same round against the same team for a second-straight season while the Lightning are off to meet the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It hurts no matter what,” veteran forward Josh Bailey said. “That’s a situation we certainly would like to have back. At the end of the day, it stings to lose. So hard to just get to this point. I’m proud to be a part of this team and yeah, it hurts right now.”
The Islanders were only able to muster 15 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goal in a timid offensive showing as they spent a majority of the night trying to keep up with the high-powered Lightning.
Had it not been for the heroics of Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov — who made 30 saves in the loss — the scoreline would not have been nearly as flattering for New York.
“Varly’s been unbelievable for us all year,” forward Brock Nelson said. “No surprise the way he played tonight. Kept us in it, gave us a chance. He’s a big reason why we’re here today. Might’ve been our best player throughout the course of the year.”
Similar to Game 5, the Islanders were on their heels for most of the first period as they were outshot 15-5 by the Lightning. But Varlamov was strong, turning away the host’s chances that — for the most part — came from the perimeter as the Islanders settled into their patented defensive structure to get out of the opening 20 minutes scoreless.
The Islanders seemingly were given a lifeline early in the second period when Barclay Goodrow was called for a crosscheck in the New York zone, but a tentative power play blew up in their faces.
An unwillingness to shoot led to a shot block from Ryan McDonagh which started a break by Anthony Cirelli down into the corner of the Islanders’ zone. He was able to turn with loose defense by Nick Leddy where he fed Gourde, who beat Varlamov glove side for a shorthanded goal just 1:49 into the frame.
“It’s disappointing because that was an opportunity to hopefully do something against them,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s a little bit of awareness. Gourde came off the bench real quick… we weren’t paying enough attention and it ended up in the back of the net.”
Anthony Beauvillier, who scored the overtime winner in Game 6, almost came up with a quick reply when he redirected a shot from Vasilevskiy’s right post. But the power-play chance rang off the post to keep Tampa’s lead intact.
The Lightning proceeded to dominate play once back at even strength, but Varlamov continued to keep the Islanders in it.
It wasn’t until the 17-minute mark of the second that the Islanders finally started showing some offensive life to gain sustained pressure in the Tampa Bay zone — suggesting that there was something to build off of heading into the third.
While the play wasn’t as tilted in Tampa’s favor in the third, the Islanders had tremendous difficulties breaking down the Lightning’s organization, only recording two shots in a 24-minute span that ended midway through the third.
With desperation setting in, their defensemen began to pinch in the offensive zone while lines were shuffled to try and find something. They nearly did with five minutes to go when a rebound squirted to Mathew Barzal at the left post, but the puck squirted over his stick with the net gaping.
It was as close as the Islanders would get, as they received a taste of their own defensive medicine with the Lightning stacking up play in the neutral zone, shutting down options along the boards, and making zone entries and sustained zone time nearly impossible for their opponents.
“Being down one goal going into the third period of Game 7 of a conference final, you’ll take that,” Barzal said. “Credit to them. They locked us up pretty good in the third period. Just couldn’t find one.
“Not our time. It was right there. Hopefully, we’re back there next year and it’s a different story.”
And so the Islanders’ 37-year wait for an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final continues.