The 2015-16 New York Islanders accomplished something that no Isles team had done in 23 years: winning a playoff round. Still, that six-game series win was followed up with a disappointing five-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2. Here is a look at the top five reasons the Islanders fell short against the Bolts.
5. Playoff Experience
The Tampa Bay Lightning went to the Stanley Cup Final last year and that extra bit of playoff experience up and down their roster gave them an edge over the Islanders, especially in close games.
The Islanders easily could have won both home games in this series, but the Lightning were able to take their game to a higher level and come through in clutch situations and the Islanders were not.
The Islanders led in Game 3 in the final minute of regulation, but the Bolts tied the game and won in overtime. In Game 4, the Islanders dominated the first period but only led 1-0. They maintained the one-goal lead in the third period but couldn’t hold it long enough. Again, they lost in overtime.
Too many times when the Islanders needed to find that extra gear and kick their game up a notch, they couldn’t do it. More often than not, the Lightning did.
4. Ben Bishop Was the Better Goalie
The best goalie usually wins in a playoff series and Ben Bishop was clearly the best goalie in this series. It’s not that Thomas Greiss was the reason the Isles lost. Greiss was good, but Bishop was definitely better.
After being chased in Game 1, Bishop was one of the best players on the ice. His numbers for the series were very good. His save percentage was .922. If you don’t count Game 1, his save percentage was .950.
It’s not just Bishop’s stats that stand out, but he also made saves at key time. Game 4 was the best example. The Islanders came out and dominated the first period but managed only one goal on 16 shots. Bishop shut the Isles out for the rest of the game and his team was able to tie the game in the third period and win it in overtime.
After Game 4, the Islanders were clearly frustrated by Bishop. Nobody in the postgame locker room seemed to know what the team needed to change except the outcome. Clearly, they had given their best and hadn’t found a way to consistently solve the 6’7″ Tampa Bay goalie who started to look even bigger in the net to the Islanders shooters.
In Game 5, Bishop shut out the Islanders. The Islanders should have played desperate hockey, but they never seemed to come close to beating Bishop and getting back into the game.
The team with the better goalie usually advances in the playoffs and in this series, that was Ben Bishop.
3. Tampa Bay Had More Depth
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more depth than the Islanders througout this series. Remember, the Bolts were playing without Steven Stamkos, their biggest offensive threat and Anton Stralman, a top-pair defenseman. Still, the Lightning hardly seemed to miss a beat.
The “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov picked up the pace offensively and they got key contributions from Jonathan Drouin, Brian Boyle and Victor Hedman.
The Islanders again struggled to get consistent goal scoring from players not on a line with John Tavares. It’s a problem that dogged the Isles all season and this series was no exception.
2. The Lightning Shut Down John Tavares
John Tavares was the difference maker in the opening series against the Panthers. In six games, the Isles captain scored five goals and nine points. In the series clincher, he scored the game-tying goal late in regulation and then the winning goal in overtime. Tavares picked up his team and carried them on his back.
But after scoring a goal and an assist in the Islanders victory in Game 1, Tampa Bay kept Tavares off the scoreboard for the remainder of the series and held him to a minus-five plus/minus rating.
Without their best player producing, the Islanders struggled to score. Nine of the 11 goals the Islanders scored in the series came in just two games. The Isles as a team scored one or zero goals in three of their four losses in the series. That lack of consistency makes it tough to win a series against a good team.
Defenseman Victor Hedman was the second overall choice in the 2009 NHL Draft behind John Tavares. In this series, he helped shut down Tavares in part because he had more help from his supporting cast than the Islanders’ captain did.
1. The Lightning Went to the Net
In the playoffs, the game gets more physical and space is at a premium. Many goals and scoring opportunities are created as a result of players going to the “dirty areas” around the crease. For the majority of the series, the Lightning did this far more effectively and consistently than the Islanders.
The Lightning had a more aggressive forecheck and they got players in front of Greiss for deflections, screens and rebounds. The Islanders were less able or less willing to create traffic in front of Bishop. The result was better quality scoring chances for Tampa Bay.
The aggressive forecheck also contributed to turnovers by the Islanders in their own zone. That in turn led to goals in key situations including the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4.
Overall, the Islanders just didn’t have the depth and clutch play to keep up with a more experienced Lightning club. In the end, that meant a five-game loss.
This season was a step forward for the Islanders as they won their first playoff series since 1993. Now they face a very important offseason with new majority ownership and some key players facing free agency.