Isles’ nosedive out of contention complete
Mathematically eliminated from playoffs after home loss to Panthers
Mathematics aside, the Islanders have been out of serious playoff contention for several weeks now.
But Monday night’s 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers in front of 10,951 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center put an official end to any hope that this lifeless squad would find a way to make one final push to avert missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
“It’s tough for us and it’s not good enough,” New York head coach Doug Weight ceded after the Islanders lost for the 14th time in 16 games during what was supposed to be a stretch run toward the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
“It’s tough for the fans and everyone involved,” he added.
The Isles proved to lack the necessary toughness to find a way out of their malaise, and that point was further accentuated against a Florida team that is still fighting tooth and nail to grab the spot New York is no longer eligible for.
Panthers netminder James Reimer made 32 saves while Keith Yandle, Nick Bjugstad and Evgenii Dadonov scored to move Florida within a single point of New Jersey for the last remaining postseason slot in the East.
“There’s not much breathing room here at the end of the year,” said Bjugstad, whose power-play goal early in the second period gave the playoff-hopeful Panthers a 2-0 lead.
“We’ve got a tough schedule coming up here, a lot of games, but it’s going to be a fun challenge.”
The fun has long been over for the Isles, who have just five games remaining to salvage some pride.
“It’s one of those games where you have to find a way to win,” noted New York forward Jordan Eberle after the Isles dropped to an ugly 16-28-8 since Dec. 1 and 5-14-1 at Barclays since the turn of the new year.
“Their goalie was making some big saves, but you have to find a way to get in and around the net and get something greasy in, and we didn’t do that.”
Christopher Gibson stopped 38 shots for the Isles, who dropped a season-worst four games below NHL .500 at 31-35-10.
This was a team that thrived at this time last year under Weight’s direction, putting together at 24-12-4 run following the firing of former head coach Jack Capuano that left them a single point shy of a playoff berth.
Weight began this campaign by emphasizing the importance of a good start.
Having achieved that by finishing November with a 15-7-2 mark that had them competing for the Metropolitan Division crown, the Isles embarked on an epic nosedive that ended with Monday night’s mathematical elimination.
“All we can say is we’re going to be better,” Weight said wistfully. “I think we have the ingredients and we have the drive and we’re going to work at it.”
Those ingredients weren’t close to enough for New York to even stay on the outskirts of this ongoing playoff race, and they will doubtlessly change going into next year.
Especially if team captain John Tavares, a pending unrestricted free agent, decides to take his talents elsewhere this summer.
With the team slated to move into its new Belmont Arena by the 2021-22 campaign, Tavares must decide if the state-of-the-art digs are enough of an attraction to keep him in Orange and Blue for the rest of his career.
The Isles have just one playoff series win since 1993, achieved during their inaugural season in our fair borough in 2015-16. And though they showed plenty of offensive firepower during the first several months of this season, even their biggest perceived strength betrayed them when it mattered most.
After battling Tampa Bay for the NHL lead in average goals per game for most of the year, the Isles have sunk to ninth in that category with 3.14 per contest.
They have also yielded league highs of 273 goals (3.59 per game) and 35.7 shots against per game this season.
Add to that a power play that is functioning at a putrid 22 percent for the season, including an 0-for-4 performance Monday night, and this Isles team has to go down as one of the most disappointing in recent franchise history.
“Right up until they scored that first goal we had a lot going for us and you think it would be a different game if maybe we got one of those,” veteran defenseman Thomas Hickey lamented.
“Then the special teams set in and it was a very different type of hockey game. We were good from the jump, but it’s discouraging.”
The same can be said for this entire season, which started with a bang, but ended with hardly a whimper as the Isles slipped further into NHL obscurity.
Isle Have Another: The Isles had very little time to lick their wounds following Monday night’s home loss as they traveled to Ottawa for Tuesday night’s game with the Senators … Forward Casey Cizikas missed Monday’s contest with an upper-body injury and will sit out again against the Senators, who are also playing out the string following elimination.
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