It was a chance to reset the series, make up for a stiff start and change the dynamic of the competition.
But instead the Islanders are now staring at a daunting uphill battle to have any chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals after the Lightning took a 4-1 win in Game 4 and a 3-1 series lead Sunday afternoon at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
After a scoreless first period, Brock Nelson broke through for the Islanders at 11:27 of the second with a tremendous individual effort that wouldn’t have happened without pressure from Anthony Beauvillier to keep the puck in the Lightning’s zone.
But before the Islanders could even exhale, Tampa Bay got goals from Blake Coleman and Ondrej Palate in the span of 12 seconds — at 11:42 and 11:54, respectively — to take a 2-1 lead. All three goals were scored within 27 seconds, tying the third fastest combined trio of goals in playoff history.
Brayden Point, who was scratched in Game 3, capitalized on an odd-man rush for the Lightning roughly 3 ½ minutes into the third period for the backbreaking tally before Patrick Maroon notched an empty-netter.
Emotions from the previous three games seemed to culminate even before puck drop, when players from both teams exchanged words at center ice during warm-ups. There was an intensity in the air and it never quite went away.
Contrary to what their pregame interactions implied, both teams took their physicality to the boards at first. The Lightning had the edge in that department, forcing the Islanders to play on their heels early.
Anthony Cirelli blasted one off the crossbar and out of play in the opening minutes, setting the tone for Tampa Bay immediately. The Islanders had to weather the Lightning storm for nearly all of the first period as they were outshot 11-4 and roughed up in the faceoff circle, losing 14 of 20 draws.
Matt Martin got a rise out of a handful of Lightning players and prompted the first chippy scrum after unloading a slap shot on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy after the whistle sounded to end the first period. A hefty scrum broke out that included Cal Clutterbuck and Yanni Gourde, who ultimately earned matching roughing minors.
Tampa Bay started the second on a power play as Martin was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.