NHL teams in trouble: Why Lightning, Islanders, Capitals trail 3-0

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the epitome of playoff success, winning Stanley Cup titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching the final in 2022.

But they were ousted in the first round last season and are down 3-0 to the Florida Panthers this postseason.

The New York Islanders, meanwhile, went 8-0-1 down the stretch to clinch the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. But they have been shut down by the Carolina Hurricanes and are down 3-0 in their series.

The Washington Capitals also trail 3-0 in their series after falling to the New York Rangers 3-1 on Friday night.

The Panthers and Hurricanes can wrap up their series on Saturday, and the Rangers can do that on Sunday.

Here’s what has gone wrong with the Lightning, Islanders and Capitals:

What has gone wrong with the Tampa Bay Lightning?

They have been hurt by their success and the salary cap. Success brings higher salaries, and the cap forces teams to make decisions. The Lightning survived the loss of their third line in the 2021 offseason to get back to the Final. But they lost Ondrej Palat in 2022 and Alex Killorn, Ross Colton, Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon last offseason. That’s a lot of playoff experience. They’re loaded at the top with NHL leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brandon Hagel, etc. But they lack the depth of previous runs, especially with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev out with a broken leg.

The Panthers are deeper and have the experience of last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is playing like he did in the 2023 playoffs. His Game 2 stop on Matt Dumba was the save of the playoffs.

What has gone wrong with the New York Islanders?

They have run into a better team. The Hurricanes beat the Islanders in the first round last season and now have a healthy Andrei Svechnikov, plus trade deadline acquisitions Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Goalie Frederik Andersen is healthy and on top of his game. The Islanders are pretty much the same as the team from the 2023 series, outside of new coach Patrick Roy.

The Islanders were the better team for much of Game 1’s loss and took a 3-0 lead in Game 2. But the Hurricanes dialed up the pressure and chipped away at the lead as the Islanders had trouble getting the puck out of the zone. The Islanders were outshot 17-1 in the third period and gave up two goals in nine seconds to complete the collapse.

Roy, who went with goalie Semyon Varlamov down the stretch because 2023 Vezina Trophy finalist Ilya Sorokin had taken a step back, tried Sorokin in Game 3. He was pulled after giving up three goals on 14 shots in the 3-2 loss that put the Islanders on the brink of elimination.

What has gone wrong with the Washington Capitals?

They also have run into a better team. The Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy, and the Capitals didn’t clinch a spot until their final game. New York had a +53 goal differential to the Capitals’ -37. The Rangers added at the trade deadline while the Capitals dealt Kuznetsov and Joel Edmundson.

The Rangers ranked in the top three in the power play and penalty kill in the regular season, and that has been a difference in this series. The Rangers have two short-handed goals and three power-play goals. Though the Capitals had two power-play goals in Game 2, they went 0-for-6 on Friday.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s No. 2 all-time goal scorer, had no shots on goal in Game 1 (five were blocked) and one in Game 2 before he had four in Game 3. “I think I have to find the open space more,” he told reporters. “It’s playoffs. It’s a different level of hockey.”

Also hurting the Capitals: They lost defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Nick Jensen in the final games of the regular season. Defenseman Vincent Iorio was hurt in Game 1, and Trevor van Riemsdyk left Friday’s game and didn’t return after a Matt Rempe hit.

‘I’m sick and tired of losing defensemen to quote ‘clean hits,” defenseman John Carlson told reporters. ‘Whether it’s at the end of the regular season or in the playoffs, it’s frustrating how guys can get injured and it’s legal.’

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