The 2021 New York Islanders: Oh, So Close

The+Lightning+proved+to+be+the+team+keeping+the+Islanders+and+their+fans+from+a+Stanley+Cup+again+in+their+final+run+at+the+Coliseum.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

The Lightning proved to be the team keeping the Islanders and their fans from a Stanley Cup again in their final run at the Coliseum. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

The 2021 New York Islanders were the closest to completing that quest for an elusive fifth Stanley Cup. For the second straight season, the Isles fell to Tampa Bay in the Conference Final/Semifinal round, but this year stings a lot more. Now, the drive for five will continue into season 39 at a new building in the fall.

The Isles grabbed the fourth seed in the East division after a late season slide, drawing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. New York only won two of their eight games against the Penguins in the 56-game regular season but proved it did not matter by beating Crosby and company in six games. They won game one in overtime, game five in double overtime, and game six in dominating fashion to advance. This was the second time in the Barry Trotz era they took down Pittsburgh in the first round. They moved on to face the Boston Bruins, who had been rolling since acquiring Taylor Hall at the trade deadline. 

Once again, they split the games on the road and came back to Nassau Coliseum tied at one. After losing Game three in overtime, they took games four, five and six to move on to the Semifinals. There was clearly a formula. Despite the name recognition of Tuukka Rask, he was obviously not healthy, and people downplayed the Islanders’ run saying they faced inferior goaltending. It was a fair criticism considering Tristan Jarry left a lot to be desired, especially in games five and six. When it came time to face Andrei Vasilevskiy — the best goalie in the NHL — the Isles had a lot to prove. 

A team that has struggled offensively for the entire Lamoriello-Trotz era had a surge in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The pesky Isles led in goals through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Bolts defense proved they were just as valuable as their offense during the series, holding the Islanders to three goals or less in all seven games including two shutouts. Kyle Palmieri, JG Pageau, Casey Cizikas, Travis Zajac and Leo Komorov all were held without a goal during the seven game marathon. Pageau was clearly injured, taking the effectiveness of his line down with him. Cizikas only scored one goal in the playoffs and Komarov none. 

The 1-0 loss in game seven was as heartbreaking as it gets, with only two legitimate scoring chances through the sixty minutes and one defensive gaffe being the difference between playing for the Stanley Cup and watching from home again. Semyon Varlamov was exceptional again, making thirty saves and keeping the Lightning in the game early when they were getting vastly outplayed. 

While they were still five wins away from marching down Meadowbrook Parkway, this run will go down in history as the team has left fans hopeful for the next few seasons. This offseason will be make or break for the Isles’ window. Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin are restricted free agents while Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene make up the unrestricted free agent contingent. 

All of that adds up to one of the most successful seasons in the franchise’s recent history. They were one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final in only their second trip to the semifinals since 1993. Game three and seven will leave a bad taste in their mouth, just like games two and six last year against the Bolts. With an interesting offseason ahead for all teams, the Islanders will look to get back to the same spot again, scoring just one more goal.