‘Brutal’ end a new beginning for Islanders
Team in Flux as Potential Player Movement, New Ownership Loom for 2016-17
John Tavares had one word for it.
“Brutal,” the Islanders team captain declared just a few moments after New York’s 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena on Sunday afternoon ended the Brooklyn-based franchise’s dream of continuing on its quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” intimated Tavares, who was held scoreless over four consecutive losses after New York’s stirring Game One victory in Tampa over the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“You put a lot into it. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do and it’s a tough way to go out.”
Though they accomplished a lot in Season One at Barclays Center, capturing their first playoff series win since 1993, sweeping their regular-season series against the arch rival Rangers and posting a 25-11-5 record in their Downtown digs, there is no guarantee that this was a year to build on for our borough’s new NHL franchise.
Pending unrestricted free agency for stalwart veterans like Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, coupled with standout defenseman Travis Hamonic’s need for a trade north of the border due to “personal, family-related” issues, will doubtlessly provide general manager Garth Snow with his most challenging offseason to date.
Also, primary goaltender Jaroslav Halak suffered what proved to be a season-ending injury down the stretch, and was clearly put on notice by Thomas Greiss’ strong performance in net during the postseason.
Greiss’ coolness under duress and the eye-opening play of third-stringer Jean-Francois Berube in limited action may prompt Snow to reshuffle his goalie alignment, if not find a way to cut ties with Halak all together.
Neither Okposo nor Hamonic was in the mood to discuss anything further than their sudden elimination Sunday. But both will doubtlessly be bombarded with questions related to their status as Islanders later this week.
“To lose both of those games [3 and 4] at home, it was definitely disheartening,” noted Okposo, who was New York’s first-round pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. “But we threw everything at them [Sunday], they just made a few more plays than we did.”
“Advancing out of the second round is a tough thing to do,” added Hamonic, who was clearly very emotional, perhaps sensing he had donned the orange and blue for the final time Sunday. “You spend your whole life for a chance to win the Cup. I love being an Islander. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.”
Also looming for the Islanders, the Charles Wang ownership era officially ended when the team stood in line to shake hands with the Lightning, who were still awaiting the winner of the Pittsburgh-Washington series to see whom they would face in the conference finals next week.
Wang, a Brooklyn Tech High School alum, lost millions while trying to keep the Islanders on Long Island, but ultimately brought them here under the umbrella of a 25-year, iron-clad agreement that gave Downtown not one, but two major pro sports franchises for the first time since the 1940s.
Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin will be the joint owners of this team going forward, ending Wang’s tumultuous, but ultimately fruitful reign atop the franchise’s masthead.
Head coach Jack Capuano expressed tremendous pride in his troops for completing the Isles’ most productive campaign in more than two decades, but even he appeared ill-prepared to go home without playing Game 6 at Barclays Center.
“You don’t want to go dry at this time of the year,” he said. “We couldn’t find a way here in the last few games to score some goals.”
After chasing Lightning goalie Ben Bishop with four quick tallies in the series opener, the Islanders managed one goal or fewer in three of the next four games.
The lone exception, a backbreaking and series-turning 5-4 overtime loss here in Game 3 last week, appeared to take the life out of a team that looked poised to make a serious run at a fifth Stanley Cup banner.
“You don’t get to the final eight without doing some good things,” Tavares said. “That’s not good enough for us. The expectations are high. We want to go a lot further.”
Going further, or at least getting as far as they got during this historic first season in Brooklyn, will depend on who stays, who goes and what the new owners are willing to do to put the Isles back on top of the NHL.
Until then …
Isle Have Another: The Isles failed to score a single goal over the final 117 minutes of the series with the Lightning … New York’s 55 points at Barclays Center during this inaugural campaign were more than it had registered at home in any season since 2003-04 … The Isles’ home attendance average of 13,626 ranked 28th in the NHL this season, but figures to rise dramatically if the team continues to be a playoff contender, and the powers that be at Barclays Center find a way to add more seating and improve current conditions at the arena, which was not built with hosting hockey in mind.
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