Years go by, players, coaches and owners come and go, and the Islanders’ long wait for another Stanley Cup Final appearance continues.
On Friday night, the Islanders were one win away from reaching hockey’s biggest stage for the first time since 1984, one goal to extend their season with a chance to win their first title as they won four straight Championships. NHL from 1980 to 1983.
But the might of the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing at home in front of a boisterous crowd, was too much to overcome.
The Lightning beat the Islanders 1-0 in a thrilling game of their conference final playoffs in Tampa, Fla. On Friday to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year.
Tampa Bay will face the Montreal Canadiens with a chance to repeat as the champion, while Montreal will seek its first title since 1993, the last time it was in the final. Game 1 is Monday night in Tampa.
The finals will be a duel between a venerable franchise from the ancestral homeland of hockey and a team of nouveau riche from sunny Florida. The Canadiens are one of the most legendary franchises in any sport, having won a league record 24 titles since 1916, while the Lightning has been in the league since only 1992-93. The season ended when the Canadiens hoisted their most recent Cup in celebration at the Old Montreal Forum.
This season’s edition of Inhabitants didn’t look much like the long-lost heir to a dynasty. The Canadiens finished the regular season with 59 points, the smallest of 16 playoff teams, but in the playoffs they’ve merged into a dynamic combination of serious veterans and high-flying youngsters like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
The Lightning, meanwhile, straddled the goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who recorded his fourth consecutive shutout in a series, since Tampa’s victory over the Dallas Stars in last year’s final. He made 18 saves on Friday, but the Tampa Bay skaters also blocked 21 shots and fought relentlessly against a disjointed Islanders team.
Yanni Gourde scored a shorthanded goal 1 minute 49 seconds into the second period. He came off the bench during a shift change and was wide open when all of the Islanders followed Anthony Cirelli around the corner. Cirelli found Gourde, who took the pass and passed the puck past Semyon Varlamov’s side of the glove, then punched in the air in celebration.
The Islanders had chances, especially when Mathew Barzal watched an open net late in the third period, but couldn’t control a rebounding puck. He was one of the many Islanders to hold back tears after the game, and he said he felt especially bad for the team’s veteran players.
“I still have a few years, but you want to win for these guys,” said Barzal, 24. “It hurts to see these guys in the locker room, to know how close we were. “
The loss marked the end of an era for the Islanders. They are known for much of their history as the inhabitants of the Nassau Coliseum, a singularly noisy arena in Uniondale, Long Island, where good times and bad times were shared with passionate local fans.
But next season, the team are set to move into a sparkling new arena near Elmont, leaving behind the concrete bunker where they have played the vast majority of their home games since the franchise was founded in 1972.
It was in this arena that the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups and reached a fifth straight final the following year. This is where the many retirees of great players like Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier have stayed for so long.
There have been many lost seasons in the old barn, as the Colosseum was often called, along with questionable management decisions, ownership issues and attempts to move the team. In 2015, the Islanders began playing home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, away from the club’s traditional home base. But the arrangement ultimately fell through and the team returned to Uniondale.
Then, in May 2018, the Islanders hired Lou Lamoriello as president, and he hired Barry Trotz, who had just led the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup championship, as head coach. The team has shown constant improvement.
“This group is special,” Trotz said. “Their character, their work ethic, their will, their commitment. For me, it’s undeniable, it’s so strong, and that’s why this group believed we could do it.
In 2019, the Islanders won a playoff round and last year they advanced to the conference finals, losing in six games, also against Tampa. This year they took it a step further, but couldn’t reclaim the glory of the 1980s.
Barring something unexpected, the Islanders’ final moments at the Nassau Coliseum will be some of their best, falling short of their championships. The record will show that their last game there saw Anthony Beauvillier score in overtime, triggering a crazy celebration with fans throwing beer cans, water bottles, shoes and hats on the ice.
Everything was quickly cleaned up, after the fans were gone for good.
The team’s dreams of winning the Stanley Cup will be pursued in a new building.
“We’re cutting back on it and getting closer,” Trotz said. “I hope we can break through.”
On Friday, however, they faded into the Lightning building.
“Our fans have taken it to the next level,” said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, “and it was an incredible atmosphere tonight.”
Vasilevskiy agreed. “It was a playbook 7,” he said.
And now the Lightning will aim to build at least some of what the Islanders had in the ’80s.
The Canadiens have the long-term pedigree, but the Lightning want to cement their place in hockey history.
“It’s nice to put on your headstone one day that you won a Stanley Cup,” said Jon Cooper, Lightning coach. “But to do it two years in a row, multiple times, now your team is special.”