Friday night’s meeting between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning was arguably the most interesting game yet of the Eastern Conference Finals. It showed exactly what I have been thinking since the series started; if the Islanders see what is going wrong and make quick structural improvements to their play, they still have a chance at making into the Stanley Cup Finals. The game on Friday night ended with a 5-3 victory for the Islanders, with consistent scoring every period of play.
The Islanders opened up the scoring with their 11th shot on goal of the night seven minutes into the first period. There was a lot happening on the ice, which made for one hectic opportunity for the Islanders. The goal came just seconds after the Islanders first attempt was stopped by Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy sprawling across the ice on his stomach trying to kick the puck away.
This strange block caused Vasilevskiy’s right leg pad to become loose, which led to the goalie asking the referee for a stoppage in play so he could fix it. There is no rule in the rulebook about stopping play for an undone pad, so as Vasilevskiy was distracted, the Islanders regained the puck and headed straight back for the crease. The first shot was blocked by a quick butterfly from Vasilevskiy, but the rebound was immediately picked up by Cal Clutterbuck who dumped it into the top left corner. Tampa Bay was cluttered around the net looking confused, and even with Barclay Goodrow diving in front of the goal, it was too little too late.
The Lightning did not wait long to return the favor, Mikhail Sergachev was able to net a shot for Tampa Bay just three minutes later. This play was initiated by Yanni Gourde skating in front of the net to do a fake slap shot, prompting the Islander’s defense to crowd around him to block it. Yanni then passed the puck to Sergachev waiting right in front of him, who backhanded the puck into the top right corner of the net after Semyon Varlomov entered into his butterfly. I have never seen a fake slap shot pull away defense that perfectly, but Tampa pulled it off.
The 2nd period of play was entirely dominated by New York, who netted two solid goals. The first one came eight minutes into play, and saw Adam Pelech pull off a beautiful wrist shot. Defenseman Mathew Barzal kept the puck from going over the line after it came out from behind the net and passed it onto Pelech. Pelech and Jean-Gabriel Pageau played a little back and forth, passing the puck between each other as they approached the net, and after passing Tampa’s defense, Pelech slotted it into the top right corner of the goal; just beating Vasilevskiy’s glove by milliseconds.
The second goal of the period for the Islanders came just two minutes after during a 4-on-4. Islander Brock Nelson brought the puck in from center ice and around the net trying to position it for a scoring opportunity, but was met with a quick butterfly from Vasilevskiy. Rather than attempt a shot, Nelson passed to Anthony Beauvillier from behind the net who took a wrist shot without skipping a beat. Beavillier shot the puck straight through a gap in Vasilevskiy’s stick arm as the goaltender was closing it up.
The 3rd period saw two more goals from each team, with Tampa Bay working overtime to try and tie up the game. The first two goals of the period both came from the Lightning, fighting hard to take the game back into their control. It didn’t take long for this offensive push to start, with goal one of the period coming with 17:30 left in the period on an Islanders power play.
Sergachev received the puck at the back of the Islanders’ zone and passed it to Nikita Kucherov directly across the ice from him. Kucherov passed it to linemate Ondrej Palat right in front of the net and was able to redirect the puck past Varlamov. This was a textbook power play goal, and showed the Lightning were still serious about this game.
Tampa Bay was able to tie the game up with about eight minutes left in play with a powerful, end of the zone slap shot from Tyler Johnson. Lightning Erik Cernak was protecting the puck behind the net, and as three Islanders came to intercept him, he slid the puck all the way back to the waiting Johnson. Johnson didn’t even take time to receive the puck from Cernak, and tipped the puck forward the second it reached him to put it deep in the net behind Varlamov who didn’t even have time to react.
With just three minutes left in the period, Nelson and Beauvillier were able to once again score for the Islanders and push them past the tie. Josh Bailey passed the puck from the edge to the zone to Nelson who was pushing forward into three Tampa Bay players defending the net. He attempted to pass the puck to Beauvillier across the ice, but was blocked by a Tampa player on their stomach. Turning around, Nelson grabbed the puck again and was able to spin around and launch the puck toward Beauvillier. Beauvillier lifted the puck into the top right corner of the net as Vasilevskiy turned to meet him.
The last goal of the night came from Pageau who received the puck from Bailey after it was passed straight into his leg. Pageau, who was behind all of the Tampa Skaters, was able to rush down the ice by himself pursued by Kucherov and shoot it into the empty goal. Kucherov hit Pageau just after the shot which prompted a fight behind the goal after the puck went in.
It was quite the eventful night for the New York Islanders, but if they keep this level of play up they might still be able to be the ones lifting up the Stanley Cup.