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So close, yet so far away for Islanders again as they fall game short of Stanley Cup Final

Matt Martin #17 of the Islanders reacts after

Matt Martin #17 of the Islanders reacts after his teams 1-0 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the NHL Stanley Cup Semifinals during the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Amalie Arena on June 25, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.  Credit: Getty Images/Mike Carlson

It was fun while it lasted for the Islanders.

Three years of playoff successes under Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz, then this season’s deepest run yet.

The Nassau Coliseum farewell, capped by the chaos that followed Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime game-winner against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

The Jets lineman crushing a beer can on his head. The "New York Saints" thing against Boston. The Ryan Pulock save in Game 4 against Tampa Bay. The rare turn in the broader New York sports spotlight this week.

All of it.

But such memories will be a consolation for the Islanders and their fans only in retrospect. Late Friday night, it was difficult to look beyond the cold, hard, immediate reality: It’s over.

The Lightning defeated the Islanders, 1-0, in Game 7 of the teams’ Stanley Cup semifinal in Tampa and moved on to face the Canadiens as they seek to repeat as Cup champions.

The Islanders were left to deal with falling short of the Final, as they have every season since 1984, and of not winning their fifth Cup, a quest that has been ongoing since 1983.

This was the closest they have come since the glory days — one victory away from hosting Game 1 of the Final.

But they came up with a dud at the worst possible time. The Lightning were by far the better team, even as the Islanders hung around behind a strong performance by goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

Losing to Tampa Bay was no shock — and there was no shame in it. The Lightning were favored by oddsmakers. But the Islanders did not bow out playing anything close to their best.

Afterward, the four players chosen to speak for the team barely were able to do so, in particular Mathew Barzal, who was openly emotional.

Asked if it was too soon to appreciate what the Islanders accomplished, he struggled to get out the words, saying, "I mean, uh, nah, I mean, it’s too early."

Said Josh Bailey, several of whose answers trailed off as he sought to complete thoughts: "At the end of the day, it stings to lose. It’s so hard to just get to this point. Proud to be part of this team. It hurts right now."

The Islanders reached the second round in their first season under coach Barry Trotz in 2019, then reached the final four each of the last two years before losing to the Lightning in six games in 2020 and seven this time.

"We’re chipping away at it," Trotz said, "and we’re getting closer, and hopefully we can break through here."

But he noted that this particular group will not return intact come autumn, and Barzal said it was particularly painful not to come through for veterans such as Bailey and Andy Greene.

The Lightning had a 14-5 edge in shots on goal in the first period, and the Islanders struggled to get the puck out of their zone, repeatedly icing it.

Things did not get much better in the second period.

With Barclay Goodrow off for cross-checking Adam Pelech, Anthony Cirelli attracted three Islanders and fed the puck to Yanni Gourde, who had just come off the bench. He scored from the slot at 1:49.

It was the first shorthanded goal allowed by the Islanders in the entire regular season and playoffs. The failed Islanders power play dropped them to 1-for-17 for the series.

The Islanders did show some spark in the third, creating some scoring chances in a frantic final few minutes, but the zero remained on the scoreboard against Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Trotz said he told his players he wished he "could take their pain away" and hoped they could feel what he did in winning the Cup with the Capitals in 2018.

Instead, they had to line up to shake the hands of the Lightning for the second year in a row.

Last time it was in an empty arena in Edmonton. This time the party was on in Tampa, and it was over for the Islanders.

New York Sports