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Heartbreaking Loss Signals New Chapter for Islanders Tight-Knit Group



New York Islanders Game 7 loss

TAMPA — The sinking feeling in Mathew Barzal’s gut was palpable as he spoke with reporters Friday night. The New York Islanders star was trying to hold back the overwhelming emotions that were visible on his face after another heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which kept the Isles from their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1984.

The scene played out in some similar fashion or another among the four players that spoke to the media and tried to make some sense of what had just happened in a loss that seemed to hurt deeper than any they had felt before. Barzal was asked at one point if he could appreciate the steps the team had taken this year, but Barzal couldn’t stomach the thought at that moment.

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“It’s just for everyone. It sucks getting back to this point and coming up short again,” Barzal said. “We got guys like (Josh Bailey) and (Andy Greene), veteran guys. I got a few more years. Those guys, you want to win for those guys. It hurts seeing those guys in the locker room afterward knowing how close we were.”

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What made the moment even harder to come to grips with is the fact that the Islanders team that hits the ice next season will likely look a bit different. The New York Islanders have salary cap issues to contend with and the upcoming expansion draft will surely mean they lose someone to the Seattle Kraken.

That means the tight-knit group that fought its way to back-to-back Semifinal appearances won’t be the same. A group that banded together to create some of the most exciting moments the franchise has seen in quite some time.

“I appreciate it. It’s an honor to play with these guys,” Scott Mayfield said. “I don’t think back-to-back being the last four teams is a fluke. I don’t know if too many people believed in us the first couple rounds but we believed in ourselves. We’re a confident group. It stings right now but it is what it is.”

The pain was equally felt by the leader of that particularly tight group, Barry Trotz. The Islanders bench boss called them a special group and praised the effort and character that they possessed.

He too was well aware of the extra heartache felt with the circumstances that will come now that the Islanders season is over.

“There’s really a bond between all the players that’s really strong and the disappointing thing is that we didn’t get this game and the group in that room won’t be together again,” Trotz said. “That’s the lay of the land in the NHL. That’s all the pain and that’s a lot of guys, they’re not going to be defined by this game. Win or lose, they’re going to be defined by all the games. We were the underdog in the first series, trailed, came back. We were the underdog in the second series, same thing. Underdogs in the third series, and we almost got it done. A lot of character. We stayed to our identity. We’re on the right path”

The New York Islanders run back to the Stanley Cup Semifinals and within a win of a trip to the Cup Final provided plenty of memorable moments among a group that managed to do more than anyone had expected. Add to that the closing of the team’s time at the Nassau Coliseum, and the run was one for the ages.

But lost in all of that and only brought into the light following Friday’s loss was just how deep a bond had been built inside the Islanders’ room and how that would be coming to an end.

“It’s still kind of sinking in. The loss, it hurts. Game 7 of the conference final,” Bailey said. “You have thoughts of obviously wanting to move on and accomplishing something with this group and winning a cup. It wasn’t in the cards this year. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Friday’s loss ended a fairy tale run for the Islanders, but it also ended a chapter in time in which a tight-knit group defied the odds time and time again. The Islanders will be back on the ice next season with plenty of expectations to shoulder, but it will be a different group.

How different that group will be, only time will tell.