The Islanders have managed to stay in control of nearly every series this postseason by responding to every loss with an emphatic win. But it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning who have taken control.
Falling 2-1 at the last seconds to the Lightning on Wednesday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, the Islanders now trail 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals and are facing their biggest hurdle of the postseason. Coming into Wednesday night, the Islanders held a 4-1 record in games following a loss.
Tied 1-1 at the start of the third, and facing a Lightning team that was down to nine forwards after losing Alex Killorn to a game misconduct and Brayden Point to injury, the Islanders survived an early Lightning power play before whiffing on a crucial five-on-three opportunity.
Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 19 saves, came up with big stops on Mikhail Sergarchev and Yanni Gourde before Nikita Kucherov found the back of the net off a pass from former Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh with 8.8 seconds left on the clock.
There were positives to take away from the loss, as the Islanders penalty kill went 3-for-3 and it was a low-scoring game compared to Monday night’s 8-2 blowout. But going down 2-0 in the series was the only thing that mattered in the end.
The Islanders looked like they had something to prove from the start. They said they’d tighten up their game after Game 1 and they followed through, at least for the first half of the first period Wednesday. There was urgency and there was focus in their start, which paid off as Matt Martin flipped the puck over Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy less than a minute and a half into the game to take an early lead.
A few minutes later, Killorn laid a late hit from behind on Brock Nelson and earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct as Nelson went to the locker room in pain. After dressing 11 forwards and seven defenseman, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper was down to 10 forwards very early.
Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal combined for a handful of dangerous chances on the ensuing five-minute power play, but the Islanders were unable to take advantage of the opportunity.
After an ill-advised icing from Devon Toews, although the replay showed Kevin Shattenkirk got a stick on it, the Isles were unable to change and allowed defenseman Victor Hedman to tie it up off the faceoff at 18:25.
Nelson wasn’t on the Islanders’ bench to start the second period but he came back a little less than halfway through. It was a physical second period as things began to get chippy.
Both teams exchanged 30-plus hits through 40 minutes as Tampa Bay lost Point to injury.