This most assuredly was not what Barry Trotz had in mind on Monday morning when he said, “Time is going to go quicker the deeper you go into this,” but the Islanders coach might as well have been talking about the pace the Lightning would bring to the rink in this conference finals series in Edmonton.
Because right out of the gate in Game 1, Tampa Bay played a decidedly more uptempo attack than the Islanders’ three victims in this tournament. The Panthers couldn’t match the Lightning’s talent and speed, nor could the Caps and neither could the Flyers.
More to the point, the Islanders seemed frazzled and undone by their opponents, yielding three goals within the first 10:46 of this 8-2 rout that did nothing at all to flatter the lone surviving member of the 16 teams that competed in the qualifying round.
Tampa Bay and western finalists Vegas and Dallas represent seeded teams. The Islanders alone emerged from the initial best-of-five to this exalted status. In fact, the Islanders and the Canucks were the only two qualifying-round winners to win the best-of-seven official first round.
“I don’t know if it’s a badge of honor but you do take some personal pride because we did have to go through an extra playoff round,” Trotz said hours before the match. “You can call it a qualifying round but that was playoffs. If you don’t get through that, you’re going home.
“So I think there is a little bit of a badge of honor, we’re the only team to have done that, the others have been top-four seeds, so we’ll take it as a badge of honor. It’s not worth anything but it’s part of the understanding of the process you have to go through. It’s helped us and it will help our team and organization going forward as well.
“There’s four teams left and that’s pretty special to get to this point. The energy is different. You know that you’re getting closer. I’ve said that the time is going to go quicker the deeper you go into this.”
The Islanders may have been somewhat compromised following Sunday’s cross-continent flight from Toronto in the wake of Saturday’s Game 7 victory over the Flyers, But that would represent a weak excuse for the team’s deficient performance. There was nothing the Islanders should not have seen coming, nothing for which they would not have been prepared.
Yet, they were forced into hurried mistakes they could not overcome, repeatedly beaten to spots and to the puck. They were backpedaling when they should have been able to hold their ground, tentative when decisiveness was required.
The Lightning carried the game, scoring three times on nine shots to drive Thomas Greiss from the nets before recording four goals on their first 17 shots against relief netminder Semyon Varlamov. Neither goaltender was particularly at fault, but for this night, the club looked like it was a holding pair of twos. Trotz needs one to come up aces.
It is likely, if not all but certain, that Varlamov will receive that chance on Wednesday. They need a restoration of No. 40’s mojo against an opponent that created a succession of point-blank chances that it converted at will.
The Islanders will need much better from Mat Barzal, outshined in his matchup against Brayden Point, who scored twice and played tricks with the puck throughout on a five-point night. Nikita Kucherov also recorded five points in this horrendously imbalanced power-against-power ledger. The Islanders will need better from pretty much everyone. The team’s puck support was wanting in the offensive zone while requisite numbers were lacking at the defensive end. Poor puck management led to bad gaps and impossible scenarios. One-on-ones were lacking. In the tone-setting first period, the team was able to send all of two unblocked attempts on goal at five-on-five.
Once was the time when Tampa Bay could be known as Rangers South. Five one-time Blueshirts — Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and J.T. Miller — wore the Bolt during the 2018 playoffs. Now it is just McDonagh, who scored the 3-1 goal that drove Greiss to the bench, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
“All the teams are here for a reason,” McDonagh said. “It’s because they’ve done a good job of not getting distracted by their surroundings and what the bubble life is like and have done a good job of staying focused on the game, individually and as a team.”
In Toronto, yes. In Edmonton, not yet.
Life moved pretty fast on Monday. The Islanders will get another chance not to miss it on Wednesday.