Schwartz: After painful loss, Islanders still believe in the group


There’s no sugarcoating the feeling in and around the Islanders organization after their season ended Friday night, courtesy of a 2-1 loss to Carolina in Game 6 at UBS Arena.

While the Islanders battled through adversity throughout the year just to make the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, the feeling was that it was an opportunity lost. In Games 2 and 6, the Islanders couldn’t hold third period leads, and lost both games in overtime.

It was a series that was there for them, and now they wonder what could have been as the off-season is underway.

“We’ll summarize the season in a few days,” said Head Coach Lane Lambert. “Right now, the loss is our focus. It stings. I will say there were guys who showed a lot of commitment and a lot of determination all year. We battled right down to the end.”

At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough, and now the Islanders are left reflecting and lamenting on what could have been.

“It’s tough because we don’t prepare for this really,” said Captain Anders Lee. “I believe in this group. We believe in one another. It’s very hard right now. It’s going to sting for quite a while.”

It’s not hard to break down what went wrong for the Islanders against Carolina, because we saw a lot of the same over the course of the 82-game regular season: there wasn’t the same third period defensive lockdown that we saw in the playoff runs in 2020 and 2021; there wasn’t enough scoring, especially from trade deadline acquisition Bo Horvat; and the special teams were nothing special, especially the power play that went 1-for-18 in the series.

“We’d love to score more goals,” said forward Kyle Palmieri, who tallied the Isles’ only power play goal of the series. “Every team would.”

The loss is particularly painful for the core group of Islanders that have been around for a while and came so close to reaching the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years in 2020 and 2021. This loss could very well lead to a roster shakeup, and it’s not unreasonable to think that some veteran players have played their final game for the Islanders.

Josh Bailey, the longest-tenured Islanders, did not dress at all in the series, and he could certainly wind up being an ex-Islander along with some of his teammates.

“This one hurts,” said forward Matt Martin. “Unfortunately, what’s done is done. It sucks. Everybody in this locker room wants to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the dream, that’s the goal. It hurts the same amount every time, whether it’s the first round or the third round. We believe in the group that we have.”

To a man, the players in that locker room certainly feel that they underachieved in this series, and the evidence is there that they did. Carolina was banged up after the regular season and continued to lose players over the course of the season, but the Islanders couldn’t take advantage of that.

I don’t know if I’ve ever covered a group of players that care for one another and will fight for one another like this group of Islanders – not just the long-term Islanders, but also the players that have joined them in recent seasons.

In that room, if you’re wearing the Islanders logo, everyone believes that you are something special.

The belief is still there, but one has to wonder if management will continue to believe.

“This is a special group,” said Lee. “This is, unfortunately, a part of our journey to do something here. That faith and that belief in one another is not going to waver. It’s just going to be a part of us getting better. This is part of our journey and our road and we gotta sit on it for a little bit.”

As the off-season evolves and the organization evaluates everything in terms of the season, and decides who is going to stay and who is going to be jettisoned, the ultimate goal in Islanders Country is to eventually be the last team standing and bring a fifth championship to Long Island.

This year, the Islanders could only accomplish the initial step.

“The first goal is to make it into the playoffs, and the second one is to go all the way and be the team that lifts the Stanley Cup. We fell short,” said Palmieri.

“It’s definitely a tough one to swallow,” said Martin. “We put a lot of work in to get here. I’m still proud of the group and how far we came this year, but at the same time it hurts…it hurts bad. We’ll sit on this one for a little while and then get ready for next season.”

This is definitely going to be a fascinating off-season for the Islanders, because there are certainly a lot of questions and a lot of intrigue.

Will President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello be back?

Will Head Coach Lane Lambert return for a second season?

What will the future be for veteran Islanders like Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck (who scored the lone goal in Game 6), and free agent to be goaltender Semyon Varlamov?

Will there be an infusion of young players from Bridgeport, perhaps William Dufour, Ruslan Iskhakov, and Arnaud Durandeau?

Stay tuned, Islanders Country – the answers to those questions are coming soon.

Follow Peter Schwartz on Twitter: @SchwartzSports

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