Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders celebrates his...

Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders celebrates his third period goal against the Washington Capitals with teammate Mathew Barzal #13 at UBS Arena on Thursday, Apr. 28, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders reached the conclusion of a had-to-be-there-to-believe-it season almost assuredly with a mixture of disappointment and relief.

They faced the Lightning in Game No. 82 at UBS Arena and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The Lightning, once again playoff bound, eliminated the Islanders in each of the last two seasons in the NHL semifinals en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

Those back-to-back near misses fueled the Islanders’ Cup aspirations this season. But a challenging schedule — a 13-game season-opening road trip, too few games in December and January and far too many in March and April — COVID-19 outbreaks and inconsistent play derailed those hopes.

“We’ve all felt, the last little while, just the grind of 82 games,” Mathew Barzal said as the Islanders concluded their season with five games in seven days to finish a 16-game slate this month. “It seems like we’ve just had so many packed together. There are some tired bodies in that room. A lot of mileage this year, it felt like. Obviously, not where we thought we’d be. Coming into the start of the year, we thought we’d be competing for the Cup.”

“It’s been a whirlwind the last I don’t know how many weeks it’s been,” Brock Nelson said. “It stinks that we’re done. But, at the same time, it’s been a challenge on the body and mentally, too. I’m sure guys will relax and recover as needed.”

And Barzal said there’s still a confidence within the group that it can compete for the Cup.

“I thought we had a better second half,” Barzal said. “I think when this roster was healthy, we’re still one of the tougher teams in the league. We didn’t have that as much this year, which was unfortunate. I think that second half is a nice reminder to our group that we’ve still got it and we can still compete with the best games.”

Friday night’s game was expected to be the last — certainly as Islanders – for defensemen Zdeno Chara, 45, and Andy Greene, 39. Neither has spoken publicly about their future plans. Coach Barry Trotz said he had no idea what either was thinking, but it wouldn’t be surprising if both retired.

“They haven’t  said a word to anybody,” Trotz said before the game. “They’re preparing like this is a regular game. Z is as intense as he always is. He looks at every game as a battle and so does Andy. They’ve prepared the same for a couple of thousand games between the two of them.”

Both are former captains, Chara with the Bruins, where he won a Cup in 2011, and Greene with the Devils. If Chara retires, his NHL record for games played by a defenseman will stand at 1,680. Greene played in his 1,057th game on Friday.

“These are great examples for any player who have played the game,” Trotz said. “It’s an honor to play with them. When you get to play with those guys, it has to be. You think about all the people you see on TV, or legends. Having a whole season for our group with those two, it’s a blessing for sure.”

Notes & quotes: Zach Parise was the only Islander to play in all 82 games…Defenseman Sebastian Aho (upper body) was unavailable after taking a boarding minor from the Capitals’ Garnet Hathaway on Thursday that did not draw NHL supplemental discipline. “He was very lucky,” Trotz said of Aho not being more seriously hurt…Ryan Pulock returned to the lineup after missing Thursday’s win with the stomach virus going through the Islanders’ room…Ross Johnston (illness) remained unavailable.

More Islanders

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months