Maple Leafs force Game 5, stay alive thanks to unbelievable comeback

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were four minutes away from being completely buried.

Four minutes away from having the longest offseason this core of players had ever had to deal with in terms of criticism and scrutiny.

Four minutes away from maybe dealing with the possibility of major changes coming to a team that — to this point — has been unable to get over the hump in the postseason.

That is when the madness started.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just 24 hours after blowing a three-goal lead to lose in overtime, the Maple Leafs flipped the script and erased a three-goal deficit with four minutes to play in regulation to force overtime. It was there that they completed one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history when Auston Matthews scored a power play to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win.

And with that, everything comes down to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET – NBCSN) for the right to advance to the field of 16 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It really cannot be overstated as to how insane all of this was, and the perfect confluence of events that needed to happen for Toronto to win this game.

For 56 minutes the Maple Leafs were unable to solve Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins, and when Boone Jenner scored with under seven minutes to play in the third period to give his team a three-goal lead everything seemed over in Toronto.

But with Frederik Andersen pulled for the extra attacker, Toronto started to chip away.

William Nylander started the comeback with 3:57 to play when he scored a goal that — at the time — seemed to be pointless window dressing.

When John Tavares scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit to one, things really started to get interesting.

Even then Toronto needed some extra help to go its way.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Game 3 hero for Columbus, had an opportunity to put the game away with an empty-net sitting in front of him, only to have his shot hit the outside of the net. Just a few moments later, Gustav Nyquist failed to gain the red line with the puck when he could have taken a shot at another empty net and gave the puck away, giving Toronto another chance.

The Maple Leafs did not waste the chance. With just 23 seconds to play in regulation Zach Hyman scored the game-tying goal to send the game to overtime. Matthews scored midway through the period, capitalizing on a Nick Foligno tripping penalty.

During their late third period comeback Toronto had the same combination of players on the ice: Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, and Morgan Rielly.

With that, Toronto now has a chance to salvage what could have been a disastrous postseason appearance. And who knows, if they lose Game 5 on Sunday all of the things mentioned up at the top (the criticism, the scrutiny, the potential changes) could still happen. This is, after all, a team that is supposed to compete for a Stanley Cup. Losing in the play-in round after three straight Round 1 exits would be awful for the perception of this core. But this win gives them a chance to fight another day and change the narrative around this team. If they do manage to do that and go on a postseason run from here, those four minutes are going be talked about for years.

As for Columbus, well, this has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares.

They had this game — and the series — all but won. If you go buy the win probability stat, they had a 99.3 percent chance of winning this game with five minutes to play.

All they had to do was avoid a meltdown, and they would have been a giant slayer for the second year in a row. But the meltdown happened.

The Blue Jackets were never supposed to be in this position this season after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency, and then dealing with a season-long run of injuries. No one would have blamed them or given it a second thought if they badly regressed or fell off the map. If they are unable to bounce back in Game 5 on Sunday this is going to be the game that will be impossible for them to shake. It was right there. They had it.

Now it all comes down to Sunday.

Honestly, it is the perfect game — and perfect series — for the unpredictable mayhem that the 2019-20 season has been.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 2-2)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 [OT] (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3 [OT]
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs (if necessary), TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

2020 NHL Awards: ProHockeyTalk’s ballot for the league’s major trophies

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The 2020 NHL awards will be handed out to the top players, coaches, and general managers around the league during the postseason.

In normal times the 2020 NHL awards would be given out during a big to-do in Las Vegas at the end of June. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winners will be announced in two parts. Last week NHL awards such as the Masterton, Jack Adams, Selke, and GM of the Year, among others, were revealed during the NBC Sports pre-game shows before each of the Conference Finals games.

The bigger 2019-20 NHL awards such as the Hart, Calder, Norris, Vezina, and Lindsay will be handed out Monday night at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream) before the start of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Pro Hockey Talk staff made our own votes for a collective ballot. Each place was given a numerical value with 5 points for first, 4 points for second, 3 points for third, 2 points for fourth, and 1 point for a fifth-place vote.

Votes were submitted by PHT writers Sean Leahy, James O’Brien, and Adam Gretz, as well as Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor, and Jake Abrahams, NBCSports.com Managing Editor of NHL content. All ballots were submitted before the start of the NHL Return to Play.

[NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule]

HART TROPHY (Awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team.”)

PHT BALLOT
1. Artemi Panarin, Rangers (18 pts.)
2. Leon Draisaitl, Oilers (17 pts.)
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (14 pts.)
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (12 pts.)
5. David Pastrnak, Bruins (7 pts.)
Connor McDavid, Oilers (7 pts.)
6. Brad Marchand, Bruins (4 pts.)

LEAHY: He was an expensive free agent signing, but proved to be an impactful one, finishing fourth overall in the scoring race with 95 points. The Bread Man had the most 5-on-5 points (71) and assists (46), and was a plus-40 in even strength goal differential when he was on the ice.

2019-20 PHWA Hart finalists: Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin

***

NORRIS TROPHY (Awarded to the top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Roman Josi, Predators (23 pts.)
2. John Carlson, Capitals (16 pts.)
3. Victor Hedman, Lightning (14 pts.)
4. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (9 pts.)
5. Charlie McAvoy, Bruins (6 pts.)
6. Jared Spurgeon, Wild (3 pts.)
7. Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes (1 pt.)
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes (1 pt.)
Cale Makar, Avalanche (1 pt.)
Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets (1 pt.)

O’BRIEN: Carlson’s 10-point edge (75 to 65) over Josi will be tough to ignore, especially for more traditionally-minded voters. But Josi has blossomed as a player who’s better in all areas of the ice, including his own end — but also in transition, where he’s crucial at lugging the puck for the Predators. I don’t know how long Josi will be worth the $9M cap hit he’ll begin registering in 2020-21, but he was more like an $11M defenseman this season.

2019-20 PHWA Norris finalists: Carlson, Hedman, Josi

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[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CALDER TROPHY (Awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Quinn Hughes, Canucks (24 pts.)
2. Cale Makar, Avalanche (21 pts.)
3. Adam Fox, Rangers (9 pts.)
Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks (9 pts.)
4. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets (6 pts.)
5. Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils (3 pts.)
6. Victor Olofsson, Sabres (1 pt.)
Ilya Samsonov, Capitals (1 pt.)

O’BRIEN: This was a special season for rookie defensemen — already saying something a year after Rasmus Dahlin debuted — as Hughes faced competition from the likes of Adam Fox, not just the brilliant Cale Makar. But, while it won’t count toward the Calder, we saw that Hughes is special not just because of his offensive ability, but by being one of the best all-around defensemen right out of the gate. It really feels like these playoffs are a “passing of the torch” to great young defensemen (see also: Miro Heiskanen) and Hughes enjoyed a rookie year for the ages.

2019-20 PHWA Calder finalists: Hughes, Makar, Kubalik

***

VEZINA TROPHY (Awarded to the goalie “adjudged to be the best at this position.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (23 pts.)
2. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (20 pts.)
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (11 pts.)
4. Ben Bishop, Stars (9 pts.)

LEAHY: Hellebuyck’s .929 5-on-5 save percentage was fifth-best in the NHL and his six shutouts were tops in the league. How valuable was he for Winnipeg? He helped the Jets win 31 of their 37 games during the regular season and he faced 37-or-more shots in 13 games, posting a .948 save percentage over that span.

2019-20 GMs Vezina finalists: Hellebuyck, Rask, Vasilevskiy

***

SELKE TROPHY (Awarded to the forward voted as “the best to excel in the defensive aspects of the game.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Ryan O’Reilly, Blues (22 pts.)
2. Anthony Cirelli, Lightning (15 pts.)
3. Sean Couturier, Flyers (13 pts.)
4. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (11 pts.)
5. Phillip Danault, Canadiens (4 pts.)
6. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (3 pts.)
7. Valeri Nichushkin, Avalanche (2 pts.)
Mark Stone, Golden Knights (2 pts.)
Anze Kopitar, Kings (2 pts.)
8. Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets (1 pt.)

GRETZ: O’Reilly has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players and a cornerstone piece of what has become one of the best defensive teams in hockey. He plays big minutes against other team’s top players and not only shuts them down (no forward with a minimum of 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season was on the ice for fewer shot attempts against per 60 minutes), but he also plays a tough, physical game without taking penalties. It is an incredible — and very unique — combination.

2019-20 Selke Trophy winner: Sean Couturier

***

MASTERTON TROPHY (Awarded “to the NHL player voted to best exemplify the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Stephen Johns, Stars (17 pts.)
2. Oskar Lindblom, Flyers (15 pts.)
3. Bobby Ryan, Senators (14 pts.)
4. Jacob Markstrom, Canucks (4 pts.)
Shea Theodore, Golden Knights (4 pts.)
5. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues (3 pts.)
Mark Letestu, Blue Jackets (3 pts.)

ABRAHAMS: When Johns returned to the Stars’ lineup in January following a 22-month absence, we knew he had been dealing with post-traumatic headaches, but there weren’t really any other details surrounding his time away from the game. Then, when this story from The Athletic was published in June, we learned that he had not only battled chronic pain, but also anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Johns persevered through those significant physical and mental health issues to resume his promising NHL career, and through making his story public, he hopes others dealing with emotional trauma or mental health will be encouraged to seek help.

2019-20 Masterton winner: Bobby Ryan

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JIM GREGORY GM of the YEAR (Presented to recognize the work of the NHL’s top general manager.)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Joe Sakic, Avalanche (23 pts.)
2. Kelly McCrimmon, Golden Knights (7 pts.)
Jeff Gorton, Rangers (7 pts.)
3. Lou Lamoriello, Islanders (5 pts.)
4. Don Sweeney, Bruins (4 pts.)
Julien BriseBois, Lightning (4 pts.)
Don Waddell, Hurricanes (4 pts.)
Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets (4 pts.)
5. Chuck Fletcher, Flyers (3 pts.)

ABRAHAMS: Sakic led the Avs to the second-best regular record in the West, despite significant injuries to a number of the team’s top players (an issue that arose once again in the playoffs). Though he inherited franchise cornerstones Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, he has assembled pretty much every other aspect of the roster. From drafting and developing Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, to acquiring key pieces via trade such as Nazem Kadri, Samuel Girard, and Ryan Graves, to finding value in free agency with Joonas Donskoi and Pavel Francouz, Sakic has constructed a true Cup contender. Colorado also ranks among the league leaders in terms of available cap space, so they should be well equipped – at least, relative to other top teams – to sustain their championship window.

2019-20 GM of the Year winner: Lou Lamoriello

***

JACK ADAMS AWARD (Awarded to the NHL head coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
John Tortorella, Blue Jackets (21 pts.)
2. Alain Vigneault, Flyers (16 pts.)
3. Bruce Cassidy, Bruins (11 pts.)
4. Jared Bednar, Avalanche (5 pts.)
5. Mike Sullivan, Penguins, (4 pts.)
6. Dave Tippett, Oilers (3 pts.)

FINEWAX: When the 2018-19 season ended, the Blue Jackets were left for the dead as they were on the verge of losing Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel. They lost all four and were considered a bottom-three team by many, but Tortorella put together his usual great system and had them on the verge of the playoffs the whole season. They beat Toronto in the play-in series and gave the Islanders all they could handle in a tough five-game series. But his work in the regular season was outstanding as the Blue Jackets had no business making the playoffs with their roster after losing so many stars.

2019-20 Jack Adams Award winner: Bruce Cassidy

***

LADY BYNG TROPHY: (Awarded to NHL “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”)

PHT BALLOT
1.
Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes (14 pts.)
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (12 pts.)
3. Ryan O’Reilly, Blues (11 pts.)
Ryan Suter, Wild (11 pts.)
4. Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets (8 pts.)
5. Miro Heiskanen, Stars (7 pts.)
6. Aleksander Barkov, Panthers (5 pts.)
7. Teuvo Teravainen, Hurricanes (4 pts.)
8. Brayden Point, Lightning (3 pts.)
9. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (2 pts.)

GRETZ: Slavin might be one of the cleanest players the league has seen in years. In almost 1,600 minutes of ice-time during the regular season, in a top-pairing role against the most skilled players in the world on a nightly basis, Slavin committed just five minor penalties for the entire season. Two of those minor penalties were delay of game puck over the glass calls. His other three penalties were a trip (the only stick infraction), a hold, and an interference. No high-sticking, no roughing, no hits to the head, no slashing. Just a clean, solid, by-the-book player that is one of the best players in the league at his position.

2019-20 Lady Byng winner: Nathan MacKinnon

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Continuing his improbable run in his first postseason as a starter, Anton Khudobin stopped 35 of 36 shots, including all 32 faced in the final two periods, backstopping Dallas to the series-opening win. The Stars broke the ice early in the first when Joel Hanley put in his first-ever NHL goal, but Tampa answered right back when Yanni Gourde tied things back up later in the period. It was all Dallas on the scoreboard after that, scoring twice in the next period, including rookie Joel Kiviranta getting his fifth of this postseason with 28 seconds remaining in the second.

Khudobin is 9-1 this postseason when making 30-plus saves in a game. With another 30-save victory, he’ll join Tim Thomas (14-3 in 2011 with Boston) and Kirk McLean (10-4 in 1994 with Vancouver) as the only goalies to have as many such wins in a single playoff (since 1955-56 when the statistic was officially tracked). His 22 saves over the final 20 minutes were the most by a goalie in any period of a Stanley Cup Final game during the NHL’s expansion era (since 1967-68).

Dallas outscored Tampa 1-0 in the third period despite being outshot by a 22-2 margin, becoming the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to outscore an opponent in a period of any postseason contest despite being outshot by a margin of at least 20.

Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the NHL pause.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, September 21, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

What can Islanders do to take next step?

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The New York Islanders have come a long way in two years.

It was the summer of the 2018 when things were looking bleak. They had missed the playoffs two years in a row and were an afterthought in the NHL. Making matters worse, their franchise player (John Tavares) bolted in free agency for Toronto after more than a year of contract drama.

But during that same offseason the Islanders hired a Hall of Fame general manager (Lou Lamoriello) and the reigning Stanley Cup winning head coach (Barry Trotz). All they have done since is go from being the absolute worst defensive team in the league to one of the best, compile the seventh best record in the league over the past two regular seasons, and have more postseason success than the organization had experienced in nearly three decades.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just for some perspective on how far they have come…

  • In the first two years of the Lamoriello-Trotz duo the Islanders have already won three playoff series and 14 total playoff games.
  • In the 24 seasons prior to that the Islanders won only one playoff series and only 16 total playoff games.

It is not even a case of Lamoriello overhauling the roster. If you look at the Islanders’ top-11 point producers from this season, 10 of them were players that were members of the organization before he arrived. His most impactful additions in the two years have been the hiring of Trotz, the signing of a new starting goalie each year (Robin Lehner last year, Semyon Varlamov this season), and this year’s trade deadline acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Outside of Varlamov and Pageau, this is mostly the same roster that finished with 80 points and missed the playoffs by double digit points during the 2017-18 season. The turnaround is a testament to the goaltending improvement (and they have Ilya Sorokin coming next season) as well as the stability and structure that Trotz has brought to the team.

And that is what Lamoriello and Trotz have brought. Stability and respectability.

All of it has gotten then closer to a championship than they have been in nearly 30 years.

Now that they are here, how do they not only stay here, but also take the next step?

Which Islanders team is the REAL Islanders team?

This is the big question that has to be answered, because we saw two very different performances from this team this season.

  • Through the first 20 regular season games the Islanders were 16-3-1 and were in the process of putting together a 17-game point streak (15-0-2).
  • They followed that up by going in the tank for the remainder of the regular season and were statistically one of the league’s worst teams over their final 48 games (19-20-9 record), while also finishing on a seven-game losing streak (as part of a 2-5-4 stretch).
  • Then they came out in the playoffs after the four-month layoff and just started dominating teams again (Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia), right up until they ran into Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.

Just like the 2018-19 season, they found their success this season despite some ugly underlying numbers, which doesn’t seem to be a thing that is going to change with this roster or playing style.

It is important to point out that the Islanders did have some major injury issues during that middle part, with defenseman Adam Pelech being the biggest. His return in the playoffs was a huge factor, as was the arrival of Pageau via trade with the Ottawa Senators. They are excellent players, and having a full season of Pageau will definitely help.

They could still use another impact forward

They saw a nice spike in scoring this postseason, but this is still one of the weaker offensive teams in the league at both even-strength and on the power play.

Yes, their game is all about defense and goaltending. And yes they have found success with that the past two seasons. But there is still a lot to be said for adding another potential game-breaker to a lineup that really only has one of them (Mathew Barzal).

That is not to take away from some of their forwards on the roster because there are some really productive players there. But after Barzal there really isn’t another player that is going to consistently strike fear into an opponent.

The problem: Finding another player like that isn’t easy.

Internally, the Islanders’ top forward prospects are Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Simon Holmstrom. Is there an impact player here? And if so, how soon?

The Islanders have $8 million salary cap space right now, but almost all of that (and perhaps more) is going to get eaten up by Barzal’s new contract (he is a restricted free agent). That means they will need to shed or hide salary somewhere else (and there are plenty of contenders for that).

On the free agent market Taylor Hall is the top forward available but he seems like a pipe dream given the salary situation (both his and the salary cap situation). Mike Hoffman or Evgeni Dadonov coming out of Florida could be intriguing.

Beyond that, it is slim pickings and you are looking into the trade market.

Hope Ilya Sorokin is the real deal

This one is pretty simple.

Great goaltending changes everything.

Islanders fans have been waiting for Sorokin for years now, and they will finally get a chance to see him next season. If he becomes the player they want him to be — and hope he can be — that gives them another outstanding goalie duo along with Varlamov.

Nothing cover up for shots against and below average offense like outstanding goaltending. If this guy is legit, the Islanders will be as well.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.