Islanders special team problems cost them in the end

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TAMPA — There’s a sort of irony in the fact a shorthanded goal ended the Islanders’ season.

When the joke of the season was that the NHL should implement a new rule that allows teams to decline power plays because the Islanders would surely take advantage of it, a power-play breakdown costing them a win in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals was almost too perfect.

After the Islanders started off strong in their second-period power play Friday night, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh gained possession of the puck and killed some time before finding Blake Coleman at center ice. Anthony Cirelli then carried the puck into the corner of the Islanders’ zone, drawing Nick Leddy, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Bailey with him.

While the three Islanders were preoccupied with Cirelli, Yanni Gourde came off Tampa Bay’s bench. He skated in unnoticed before one-timing a feed from Cirelli past goalie Semyon Varlamov at 1:49 of the middle frame.

“I don’t know if it’s more frustrating,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the season-ending loss. “It’s disappointing because it was an opportunity for us to hopefully do something against them. Just a little bit of awareness. Gourde came off the bench real quick, they made a play, we sort of weren’t paying enough attention and it ended up in the back of the net.”

Through 19 games this postseason, the Islanders went 10-for-49 on the power play, a 20.4 percentage. Gourde’s goal was the second shorthanded tally the Islanders allowed in the playoffs, although the first was not nearly as deadly.

After the Islanders were the only team in the league to not allow a shorthanded goal during the regular season, they gave one up in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Penguins. Zach Aston-Reese ended goalie Ilya Sorokin’s bid for a shutout at 17:25 of the third period while killing a Jake Guentzel cross-checking penalty.

The Islanders ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in power-play goals during the regular season, going 27-for-144 (18.8 percent). There were plenty of times when the Islanders had the man advantage, but didn’t look as if they did. Friday night was certainly one of those times.

The Lightning owned one of the deadliest power plays in the regular season and playoffs, combining to go 60-for-233 (25.7 percent). On the other hand, the Islanders particularly struggled with the man-advantage in the semifinal series against Tampa Bay, going 1-for-17. The Islanders’ lone power play came from Brock Nelson in their 4-2 loss in Game 2.

So the Islanders’ special playoff run was ultimately cut short by one of their few weaknesses. That likely doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

“It hurts no matter what,” Josh Bailey said of the Gourde goal, his voice quivering. “That’s a situation we certainly would like to have back.”

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