TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Who were those guys? Certainly not the Islanders

Scott Mayfield of the Islanders reacts to a

Scott Mayfield of the Islanders reacts to a goal by Yanni Gourde of the Lightning during the first period in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on Monday in Tampa, Florida. Credit: Getty Images/Mike Carlson

Barry Trotz should have left Semyon Varlamov in the game and pulled everyone else.

The NHL might have frowned upon such an arrangement, but really, how much worse could it have been? The Islanders’ skaters were ghosts on Monday night — technically present but largely invisible.

The Lightning’s 8-0 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup semifinal was more than thorough. It was thoroughly embarrassing for the visiting team, the most lopsided playoff loss in the Islanders’ nearly half-century history.

It looked as if they had been abducted en route to Amalie Arena in Tampa by impostors who stole their white sweaters and did a poor imitation of what usually is a sound, smart team.

Losing on the road to an excellent Lightning team was no surprise, but the particulars were a shock. Whatever could go wrong did — repeatedly.

When it was over, Trotz and the four veteran players who spoke to reporters did their best to walk the fine line between acknowledging how bad it was and noting that it still counts for only one defeat.

"A loss is a loss this time of year, whether it was in double overtime or the way it went tonight," Kyle Palmieri said. "We’ll wake up tomorrow down 3-2 headed home with our backs against the wall."

To reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984, the Islanders must win two in a row against the defending Stanley Cup champions, who have not lost two consecutive playoff games since they began their 2020 Cup run.

One question for Game 6 will be whom Trotz starts in goal, but it says here he should go back to Varlamov, who was lifted when the Lightning took a 3-0 lead in the first period.

Varlamov had gotten little to no help from his teammates, a point driven home when backup Ilya Sorokin fared no better in his place.

It somehow got even worse as the second period ended when Mathew Barzal was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct for cross-checking Jan Rutta in the face. Rutta collapsed to the ice face-first and did not play in the third period.

Will Barzal merely be fined or will he be suspended? Losing him would be a blow. "I am disappointed in his decision there," Trotz said.

The outcome effectively was decided in an awful first period during which the Islanders were outshot 19-5. It was a blur of odd-man rushes, turnovers and sloppy defense.

The Islanders seemed to be operating at half speed compared to Tampa Bay, which looked like the team that put a third-period scare into the Islanders in Game 4. The Lightning have scored 10 consecutive goals over two games.

When the Lightning made it 3-0 at 15:27, Trotz pulled Varlamov in favor of Sorokin.

The Islanders awoke early in the second and put some pressure on Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the good feelings did not last long. With Brock Nelson off for hooking, Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the night at 5:42.

It was the first of four power plays for the Lightning in the second period, two of which resulted in goals. They added another power-play goal early in the third with Barzal off for a five-minute major.

Trotz and his players repeatedly have spoken about the importance of avoiding taking penalties because of the dangerous Tampa Bay power play.

"Obviously, against a team like this, you want to stay out of the box as much as you can," Josh Bailey said. Apparently, it was not obvious enough.

"It was one of those nights where we couldn’t do anything right," Trotz said. "It didn’t go our way, and it was a tough one. We’ll just have to park it."

Not that Trotz wants his players to forget what Monday felt like. "I just think the game, this result, how we played, if that doesn’t motivate us, then I’m not too sure what will," he said.

He added, "I’ve been with this group a long time, and I know the character of this group, and we’ll be ready."

There is one thing Trotz can count on in Game 6: The Islanders cannot be any worse than they were in Game 5.

New York Sports