Frustrating, soul crushing, disappointing are just a few words that can be used to describe the feeling among all in Islander country after a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 4 of this eastern conference semi-final matchup. The lightning now have a commanding 3-1 lead in this best of 7 series with a chance to close it out Sunday back in Tampa Bay. The Islanders came out flying early drawing first blood early in the 1st on a powerplay goal by kyle okposo. It was just okposo's 2nd goal of the playoffs. But that was all the Isles would get. Though they had some great opportunities including Tavares (pointless now in his past 3 games) rang one off the crossbar, and de haan failed on a golden opportunity to go five hole on bishop while the isles were shorthanded near the end of the 2nd period. Kucherov would tie it near the mid point of the 3rd, and the isles played for overtime the rest of the way.
It took less than 2 minutes for John Garrison to score the overtime winning goal that not just gave the lightning a 2-1 win, but also a commanding 3-1 series lead that pushes the Islanders to the brink of elimination. Tampa's secondary scoring, speed, and experience have been what has gotten them this far. All without franchise centerman Steven Stamkos, and hulking defenseman Anton Stralman. Stralman could return for the conference finals, and Stamkos could return for the conference finals as well, but is likely expected back for the Stanley Cup Finals should the lightning get that far. The islanders simply have failed to matchup with this team.
Jack Capuano had done just about everything right in the 1st round series against the Florida Panthers, but now has gone back to his old ways of questionable lineup changes (putting Ryan Strome in and out of the lineup while playing steve bernier), failure to match certain lines, and seems just clueless as to what else he has to do. This was a season where if the isles didn't get past round one, capuano and the coaching staff were going to be fired at season's end. It was all but confirmed by Islanders beat writer Arthur Staple of newsday before the start of the season. Capuano is now coaching as if he knows his job is safe. And to be honest he shouldn't be. His poor decision making could be what costs him his job. Even though the team did win it's first playoff series in 23 years, which is a good step forward. His decision to play bernier over strome, and give bailey chance after chance after doing nothing for so long. Along with sitting pulock and pelech in favor of hacks such as zidlicky and strait for good portions of the regular season will be what the new owners will look at this summer before wanting to give him a contract. So snow may or may not be so eager to just give a long term contract off the bat.
While the Islanders don't have the secondary scoring to makeup for when John Tavares is being kept in check, capuano has not been able to instill a killer instinct in this team. when the Isles have a small lead they tend to sit back, and hope they can survive instead of going for the jugular and executing. Tampa when they've been trailing immediately kick into another gear and take it to the Islanders. While the Isles just try to play keep away. It does again fall back onto the lack of secondary scoring, but the big guns have not shown up. And they have not for roughly this entire series when they have been expected to do so.
Tavares was white hot the last 15-20 games of the regular season, and carried that into the playoffs, but has been kept in check by Victor Hedman and the rest of Tampa's tough defense. Nielsen has been so so, while Kyle okposo hasn't done much of anything in this series or playoffs as a whole. And Okposo wants $6 million per year? You don't deserve big money if you're not coming up big kyle! The blame should also fall on Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, and Nikolay Kulemin. Bailey who scored 2 goals in the game 3 loss had only 1 assist and was -3 before actually making an appearance. Bailey hadn't scored in 22 games, that includes the final 16 regular season games and the entire 6 games in the florida series. He sat out games 1 and 2 against the lightning. Bailey than went back into hiding in game 4. Nelson has had a pair of multi assist games in the playoffs including a goal but that is about it from him. He has been hit and miss, but overall another disappointment. Ryan Strome has also been a disappointment registering a goal and a few assists. Even though he has been in and out of the lineup. Nikolay Kulemin has been a $4 million dollar per year disappointment, and that all there needs to be said on him.
The blame should also be aimed at general manager Garth Snow for not bringing in necessary help to solve the issue with the secondary scoring that was a weakness dating back to last season. He must address it in the offseason since the new owners will be taking over and will be expecting more results. John Tavares hasn't had a true scoring winger in his entire time with the Islanders. Thomas Vanek was the closest thing to that, but he was only here for a short time in 2013-2014. Yes they have guys like Ho-Sang and Dal Colle in the pipeline, but they need time to develop and Tavares is entering his prime without a true to winger. He is also 2 years away from unrestricted free agent status, so the Isles need to get him the help he so desperately needs. The Edmonton Oilers will be shopping guys like Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle. And with Travis Hamonic (sadly) being traded most likely this offseason due to wanting to be closer to family. The oilers would be a likely landing spot for him. But he alone wouldn't be enough to get either Hall or Eberle. So a package with Hamonic as the centerpiece would be put together.
I know I've gotten ahead to thinking of the offseason as if the series is over already with game 5 still to be played. But after backbreaking overtime losses in both games 3 and 4. It may just be over after all that. The feeling in the Barclays Center on friday night after the loss just felt like the life was completely sucked out of not just the fans but the players themselves. Tampa Bay knows what it takes to be near the top of the mountain only to fall short. They're battle tested and it's shown. The Isles are not. The late great Yogi Berra once said "it aint over, till it's over." After tonight though, it feels like it's over. But if the Islanders survive and win game 5 the momentum of the series could possibly change with game 6 in Brooklyn. It is the playoffs after all. And if anyone has been due for a playoff miracle, it's the Islanders.