The NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals and race for the Prince of Wales Trophy began on Monday with the first meeting between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders. Tampa Bay is coming into this series as the more well rested of the two teams having beaten the Boston Bruins in five games, while the Islanders took their series after a full seven. This rest seems to have done Tampa Bay some good, because the team outperformed the game-weary and travel-tried New York Islanders in every conceivable way.
There was some worry among the Tampa fanbase that the team would be a little rusty going into this game over the battle-hardened Islanders, but this could not have been further from the truth. Andrei Vasilevsky once again showed why he deserves to be called one of the best goaltenders on the planet right now, maintaining his .930% save percentage and only allowing two goals from New York’s powerful offensive lines. The Islander’s starting goaltender Thomas Greiss was a large part of their issue on Monday night, allowing in three goals in the 11 minutes of play he had before being pulled in favor of backup Semyon Varlamov.
Greiss allowed in three goals on nine shots during his short stint on the ice, while Varlamov allowed five of the 25 shots that he faced to score during his 48 minutes of ice time. This game seemed to be a mentally and morally taxing one for the New York Islanders, with the team losing steam after each goal from Tampa Bay. Islanders head coach Barry Totz was quoted as saying “Every time we made a mistake, they scored. Once they got the fifth goal, that’s when it got out of hand and it was only a matter of time.”
The explosive first period really set up Tampa’s position to push through to a Game 1 victory. The period settled in at 10:46 with the score at 3-1 in favor of the Lightning and it would remain that way until early into the 2nd. A three on two rush by the Lightning’s offense into the Islander’s zone allowed Yannie Gourde to push the score to 4-1 after a little more than four minutes into the period. It did not take too long for this to become a 5-1 lead on a Tampa Bay power play given after a high sticking penalty against New York’s Andrew Greene. The goaltending change from New York did limit the Lightnight’s offensive chances some, but it was not enough as the team let in three more goals in the final period, one each from Kucherov, Palat and another from Gourde.
The New York Islanders are going to have to make some substantial changes if they are hoping to have any chance of winning the Prince of Wales Trophy and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.