So, I may have been a little too optimistic about the New York Islanders and their chance to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. I do have a bit of a hockey curse like that; every team I support will, without fail, lose when it matters most.
The Sunday night meeting between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders was quite the tough game for New York. Going into the game after how they played on Friday, this should’ve been a close matchup between the two teams, but it was anything but. The 4-1 game had Tampa leading the way for almost the entirety of play. Even during the scoreless first period, Tampa showed they meant business.
The New York Islanders were actually the first to open up the scoreboard on Sunday with a very clean play from Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson. Unsurprisingly, the offensive line that ran Friday night’s game came into this one wanting to perform that way again. With 8:38 left in the second period, Beauvellier was able to get hold of the puck behind Tampa’s net despite having two Tampa Bay defenders on top of him. He and Bailey were able to fight through the Lightning defense to slide the puck to Nelson, who was waiting just in front of the net. Nelson was forced to the back of the zone as Tampa fought for the puck back, but was able to dump the puck into the top right corner of the net, right above Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove while wheeling around the Islanders center.
Tampa Bay did not wait long to return the favor though. The Lightning turned about and scored two goals in 12 seconds, just 15 seconds after New York scored their first and only goal of the game. The first goal came from Blake Coleman, who took an across-the-ice pass from Yanni Gourde. After the Islanders won a center ice faceoff, the puck ended up behind Tampa’s net and was retrieved by Vasilevskiy who passed it to Gourde. Gourde then shot the puck straight at the New York goal, and it was picked up by Coleman some 10 feet away from the net. Despite taking a poke check from Semyon Varlamov, Coleman was able to deke the puck to the right and backhand it right into the net. The entire play, from pass to goal, took a little more than six seconds. The second goal of the period for Tampa Bay was another across-the-ice rally toward the goal. Nikita Kucherov took the puck at Tampa Bay’s blue line and carried through center ice toward the New York goal. Screened by three Islanders, he passed the puck to linemate Brayden Point who was hugging the wall, and as they approached the goal, the puck was passed back. Once Kucherov reached the crease, and Varlamov’s butterfly, he dumped the puck to Ondrej Palat, who was waiting on the other side of the net completely alone. Palat was able to shoot deep into the back of the net before Varlamov even had a chance to move to the left side of the goal.
The success of Tampa Bay’s first offensive line and its ability to pass directly in front of the net made another goal that night just 3:33 into the third period. Palat took a pass from Kucherov and was able to carry the puck directly in front of the crease before being screened by New York defenseman Ryan Pulock. Unable to get past Pulock and Varlamov, Palat found Point waiting inside the crease ready to score. Palat shot right into Point’s stick, which got the puck right under Varlamov’s skate, and Point was able to easily slide the puck into the net. This offensive line’s ability to out-position Varlamov has been a massive point of failure for the New York Islanders.
The final goal of the night came with a little more than two minutes left in the period. Just like the last goal of the game on Friday night, this score came out of an empty net goal. The Islanders, desperate to bring about a tie and force overtime play, pulled Varlamov off the ice for a sixth skater. Gourde was able to get hold of the puck in Tampa’s zone and dumped the puck out. Patrick Maroon, who was covering two Islanders near the pack of the zone, saw what was happening, and as soon as Gourde made a move for the puck, bolted toward the Islanders’ side of the ice. He was able to reach the puck in the right face-off circle and casually tapped the puck in with a backhand hit before he was hit by Islanders defenseman Andy Greene.
Everything that I said the Islanders did right in Game 3, they did wrong on Sunday night. They are going to need to sit down and really, really think about what they are doing if they want to overcome Tampa Bay’s two game lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.