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Should last season's Game 7 linger for the Islanders? Yes, but it should be a motivator as well

Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock  and Matt Martin

Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock  and Matt Martin of the Islanders react after their team's 1-0 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at Amalie Arena on June 25, 2021, in Tampa, Florida. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

TAMPA, Fla. — The bitter disappointment may always linger. And that’s just how coach Barry Trotz believes it should be.

If this Islanders group eventually gets to lift the Stanley Cup, their 1-0 loss to the two-time-champion Lightning in Game 7 of the NHL semifinals last June will be one of the most important motivating factors.

The Islanders were back at Amalie Arena on Monday night for the first time since their second straight NHL final-four ouster by the Lightning.

"I think it will always [linger]," Josh Bailey said. "It’s one of those things you just don’t turn the page and forget. I think you try and use it as a motivator to get yourself back into a position like that and keep you hungry."

Bailey was one of the Islanders who addressed the media following the Game 7 loss, with Yanni Gourde’s second-period shorthanded goal being the difference. His voice was raw with emotion that night, though nothing left a more lasting image than Mathew Barzal’s reddened eyes and choked-back words.

The Lightning, who also had defeated the Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference finals in 2020, went on to beat the overmatched Montreal Canadiens in five games for their second straight NHL title.

"I don’t think you want to forget," Trotz said. "You get only so many kicks at the can. I don’t think you want to forget those things. You never want to forget the great moments in your life and you don’t want to forget the tough ones, because the tough ones are the ones that get you to have more good ones.

"That will stick with me for a long time," added Trotz, who won the Cup with the Capitals in 2018. "We gave up a shorthanded goal in Game 7 and took our opportunity away for maybe playing for the Stanley Cup. When you’re in this business, that’s pretty powerful because you don’t get too many opportunities."

It’s still young in the new season, but that’s something the Islanders are all too aware of as they entered Monday in last place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division. They conclude their season-opening, 13-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Panthers before opening UBS Arena at Belmont Park on Saturday night against the Flames.

They had yet to establish a consistent game, and Trotz hoped facing the Lightning might spark his team to a new level.

"I’m hoping so," Trotz said. "They’ve knocked us out of getting to the Final the last two years. I hope the group has that same sort of attitude."

But while escaping the memories of their Game 7 loss was difficult walking into the building, the Islanders players also know that Monday night’s game represents more of a chance to get to the level of play they aspire more so than any revenge factor.

"As a group, we’re not thinking about last year," Matt Martin said. "You reflect on your season every year and then you come back with a new focus, new expectations."

"It brings back a lot of memories, Game 7, to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup," said defenseman Andy Greene, who played in his 1,000th career game on Monday night. "We didn’t get it done. Obviously, it’s there. But, looking at the picture right now, we need to play well."

The Islanders had lost two straight before facing the Lightning on Monday. That was leaving more of a bitter taste in the moment than a loss in June.

"We’re just focusing on the next game," Bailey said. "That’s where our minds are."

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