The New York Islanders' bubble has been popped.
The Islanders were the Cinderella story of the East in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, making a run to their first Conference Finals since 1993. But that's where the run came to an end, as the Isles ultimately fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
So, why did the magic run out for the Islanders? Let's take a look.
Lack of offensive production
You may have figured it would catch up to them eventually and, alas, it did. The Islanders, who finished 22nd in the NHL in scoring during the regular season, were outscored 20-12 (14-8 at 5v5) in this series. Not great.
Coming into the series, the Isles were actually the highest-scoring team left in the playoffs, averaging 3.38 goals per game through the play-in series and two traditional rounds. But, as we've seen under Barry Trotz's system, much of New York's offensive opportunities are a product of good defensive play. Strong forechecking and defensive play creates opportunity in transition, and New York is typically great at taking advantage on the rush.
However, the Lightning were exceptional at moving and taking care of the puck in this series, which limited NYI's chances off the rush. Without the east-to-west game, New York's zone entries were often sloppy and they failed to get enough sustained pressure and possession in the offensive zone. Through the six games, the Lightning held an edge in attempts (332-263), shots (168-120) and high-danger opportunities (70-49). New York also shot just 6.6 percent.
Simply put: The Islanders' offense feeds off mistakes from the opposition but a very good, very smart Lightning team managed to keep them starved.
Power play problems
When you're struggling to generate offense at 5v5, you typically need your power play unit to come through and pick up some of that slack. Unfortunately, the Islanders PP unit wasn't able to do that against Tampa.
The Isles' power play finished 24th in the league (17.3 percent conversion rate) during the regular season, but they were even worse in this series. They went just 2-for-19 on the PP and often looked lost despite carrying the extra man. Not only did they struggle to score, they often failed at simply establishing offensive momentum at all.
Those squandered opportunities stung when the Isles needed all the help they could get.
Dominance by Tampa's top talent
When you look at these two rosters on paper, there's no question that the Lightning have more talent -- especially at the top. In fact, the Lightning might be more loaded with top-end talent than any team in the league. That talent gap translated to what we saw on the ice in this series.
Tampa's top line was dominant, despite missing Brayden Point for two games and having him clearly banged up for another. (Anthony Cirelli stepped in and played well in Point's absence.) Let's look at some of the 5v5 possession stats for that trio real quick:
- Nikita Kucherov: 143-77 attempts, 76-32 shots, 9-0 goals
- Brayden Point: 60-45 attempts, 35-18 shots, 6-1 goals
- Ondrej Palat: 125-68 attempts, 66-29 shots, 7-0 goals
It's also worth noting that Kucherov played over 146 total minutes in this series, second only to Norris-winning workhorse Victor Hedman. And if we're going to point out the dominance of Tampa's top talent, we also have to look at Hedman, who essentially serves as an extension of that first line. He has been incredible this postseason and that includes his play in this series.
- Victor Hedman: 133-91 attempts, 70-41 shots, 9-1 goals
Depth and an ability to roll four strong lines is something that carried both of these teams to the Eastern Conference Finals, but what makes Tampa so scary is they have that depth while also boasting elite talent at the top. Also, a reminder that the Lightning are doing all of this without one of their best forwards in Steven Stamkos.
Failure to close out
Leading up to the conference finals, New York had outscored opponents 22-7 in the third period. In this series? They were outscored 8-3 in the final frame of regulation. The most painful third-period goal came in Game 2, when Kucherov scored a back-breaking game-winner with 7.8 remaining on the clock.
After the Isles got completely pummeled in Game 1, they were able to play the game they wanted and dictate most of the play in Game 2. It looked like they were going to have a great shot at evening up the series but some uncharacteristic breakdowns and sloppy play in the final minute cost them dearly and, as a result, it felt like they gave that game away.
The Isles love to grind down their opponent over the course of a game and then strike when their foe is tired and frustrated in the third period. Tampa did well to match that grit and put together full 60-plus minute efforts.
The Lightning are just better
I mean, there's not much more to say. The Islanders had a great run and there's not a whole lot of reason to feel bad about their most successful season in decades. The fight was there... they just ran into a wall in Tampa and the magic ran out.