The New York Islanders' first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007 ended Saturday night with the heartbreak of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Though the Islanders pushed the Penguins a lot more than a lot of people expected, their lack of experience and Pittsburgh's ability to capitalize on mistakes were too much.
Here are five reasons the Islanders' season is over:
Evgeni Nabokov's play down the stretch was a big reason the Islanders got hot in April and made the playoffs for the first time in six years. But Nabokov, one of the few Islanders with substantial playoff experience, lost his touch against the Penguins. He allowed four or more goals in five of the six games, and with rare exception didn't come up with the big save when the Islanders needed it. The Penguins had the same problem with starter Marc-Andre Fleury but were able to switch to an experienced backup, Tomas Vokoun, who excelled in Games 5 and 6. Nabokov's backup was untested rookie Kevin Poulin, who saw action twice in mop-up roles.
2. Lack of finish
The Islanders' aggressive forecheck made life miserable for the Penguins in their zone and generated plenty of scoring chances. The problem was the inability to finish. The series likely would have returned to Pittsburgh for Game 7 if the Islanders could have put away some of the numerous opportunities they had in the second period of Game 6. The most damaging miss came when Matt Moulson was wide open on a backdoor play and missed a yawning net; a goal there would have made it 3-1. Top-level teams put away their chances, and the Islanders have to learn how to do that.
3. Special teams
New York's power play and penalty killers struggled against the Penguins. The power play scored twice; the PK was beaten seven times on 21 opportunities. The Islanders' penalty killing declined as the regular season rolled on, and its lack of success was a direct cause of the overtime loss in Game 4. The power play was sporadic all season and struggled against the Penguins.
4. Defensive depth
The loss of top-pair defenseman Andrew MacDonald with a broken hand in Game 4 was harmful to a group that was thin to begin with. MacDonald and partner Travis Hamonic emerged as the Islanders' best shutdown pairing; the loss of MacDonald, one of the NHL's best shot-blockers, meant more time for Matt Carkner and two games with Radek Martinek taking a regular shift. If there's one area the Islanders have to improve to take the next step, more size and depth on defense is it.
Not surprisingly for a team that hadn't made the playoffs since 2007, the lack of experience in the postseason took a toll. The Islanders looked scared and nervous in a 5-0 loss in Game 1 and had no answer for a second-period Pittsburgh blitz that blew open Game 5. New York gave up a half-dozen goals within two minutes of scoring one of their own during the series, and though they made life miserable for Pittsburgh for long stretches, the Penguins were able to capitalize on Islanders mistakes with sudden strikes that negated goals the Islanders had had to work hard for.
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