Their starting goalie was gone before the game was 16 minutes old, their penalty killing was as bad as their discipline, their best forward got himself thrown out for a cross-checking major and the team was shut out 8-0.
In more positive news for the New York Islanders, Mathew Barzal may not be suspended for his cross-check to the jaw of Jan Rutta and remains a possibility for Game 6 on Wednesday when his team tries to extend its National Hockey League season against the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders were utterly and fully putrid in the biggest game of their season, losing by eight goals Monday in Tampa, providing about as much resistance as the humidity in Florida.
The shortest night of the year was the longest night of the season for the Islanders.
Their performance was so bad as to be unrecognizable for a group that rarely beats themselves, but blew up against a Lightning team with so much offensive dynamite it usually wins even when the opposition isn’t smoking in the explosives room.
With 47 playoff games in three seasons and in their second-straight Stanley Cup semifinal against the Lightning, the Islanders have been at this stage before. But they never got there with a game like this.
“It was one of those nights where we couldn't do anything right,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “It didn't go our way, it was a tough one. We'll just have to park it. At the end of the day, we're going back home, it's 3-2, and we've just got to focus on earning the right to keep playing.
“We can fix a lot of the things that we put ourselves in today. We're going to have to have our best game. We're going to have to have our best effort from every player on our team and if we do that, we'll be back here for Game 7.”
The Islanders had allowed only nine goals in the series’ first four games, but trailed 3-0 Monday after 15½ minutes and 6-0 after two periods. The eight-goal loss was the largest in playoff history for an organization that won four straight Cups at the start of the 1980s.
“A loss is a loss this time of year,” winger Kyle Palmieri said. “Whether it was in double overtime or the way it went tonight, we'll wake up tomorrow down 3-2, headed home. We have a chance to win a game at home. That's all we're focused on now.”
If the Islanders don’t win Wednesday, it will be their final game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the franchise’s home on Long Island since it entered the NHL in 1972.
“I just think the game, this result, how we played, if that doesn't motivate us, then I'm not too sure what will,” Trotz said. “There's nothing I can say that will motivate them. We've just got to man up, understand all the things that we need to do — and this group does — and we have to leave our best game out there now. Obviously, tonight wasn't our best game and we put ourselves in a real tough bind.
“I've been with this group a long time. And I know the character of this group, and we'll be ready.”
The loss could still get worse for the Islanders, who will await Tuesday a decision from the NHL's Department of Player Safety about whether Barzal’s major penalty deserves more than five minutes and a game misconduct.
Given the NHL’s playoff culture and disciplinary history, as well as a dangerous cross-check Monday by Tampa defenceman Ryan McDonagh on Brock Nelson that drew only a minor penalty, it seems unlikely that Barzal will be suspended for Game 6.
Still, he has put the NHL in a position where it could make a ruling against him and his team.
“I'm just disappointed because, you know, it wasn't going well and you just sort of dug it a little deeper for the guys,” Trotz said of Barzal lumbering Rutta as the middle period ended. “I am disappointed in his decision there.”
IS RUTTA REALLY HURT?
With the score 6-0, and knowing that the Department of Player Safety uses injury among its suspension criteria, the Lightning kept Rutta out of the third period. No one will know his status until Tampa names its lineup for Wednesday, but it was pretty easy for coach Jon Cooper to keep his sixth defenceman in the dressing room for the third period of a blowout win. Rutta’s absence – necessary or contrived – made Barzal’s cross-check look worse.
It’s not always true that teams make their own luck, but since New York’s atrocious array of bounces in the game’s first 25 minutes were accompanied by some awful puck management, the Islanders could scarcely blame the hockey gods for what was an unsurvivable early deficit.
Steven Stamkos opened scoring just 45 seconds in when Alex Killorn’s shot bounced straight to him off Islanders defenceman Adam Pelech after Palmieri turned over the puck up ice.
Yanni Gourde was trying to pass on a 2-on-1 when the puck caromed 90 degrees off defenceman Andy Greene and through Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov to make it 2-0 at 11:04. After Islander Jean-Gabriel Pageau tried to toe-drag the puck through traffic inside his blue line while teammate Scott Mayfield was changing.
Killorn’s butt made it 3-0 at 15:27 – and chased Varlamov – when David Savard’s shot drilled the Tampa forward’s backside and the puck ricocheted several times. After New York defenceman Ryan Pulock, the hero of Game 4 on Saturday, turned over the puck in the neutral zone, then blindy cleared it a few seconds later straight to Savard.
“We weren't managing the puck very well,” Greene said. “Whether it was our blue line or through the neutral zone or their blue line, we turned a lot pucks over and, obviously, they're a great transition team and you start giving them chances like that, they're going to make you pay.”