Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli wristed one off the post and Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov could barely move. The puck had deflected in behind him.
And with it the Islanders’ longest playoff run since 1993 came to a screeching halt as the Lightning took a 2-1 win in overtime in Game 6 on Thursday in Edmonton, Alberta to advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Dallas Stars.
It was déjà vu when the Islanders were called for a double-minor high-sticking penalty with just over a minute left on the clock in regulation. Andy Greene drew blood from Nikita Kucherov and the Isles were suddenly opening up overtime on the penalty kill, just as they did in Game 5 when Anthony Beauvillier was the culprit.
But the Islanders managed to kill off the Lightning’s power play for the first 3:37 of overtime before Cirelli eventually buried the game-winner at 13:18.
The Islanders lost a bit of their identity when Adam Pelech was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season in January, so it was only fitting that the team couldn’t extend their season without him.
Pelech, who returned to the team following the coronavirus pause, didn’t take pregame warm-ups and was scratched ahead of the Game 6 loss, presumably due to an undisclosed injury.
The 26-year-old defenseman’s absence was glaring, as Tampa Bay put up 17 shots in just the first period, including a 37-17 advantage in shot attempts. The Lightning finished with 48 shots to the Islanders’ 27.
It wasn’t until there was 5:53 remaining in the second period that the Islanders accumulated double-digit shots.
Coach Barry Trotz opted to roll with 11 forwards and seven defenseman again after the Islanders were successful in Game 5, this time inserting Noah Dobson as the seventh defenseman as the 20-year-old made his playoff debut. Dobson became the first Islanders player born in the 2000s to appear in a postseason game.
The Islanders were noticeably out of whack in the opening minutes of the game with all the last-minute lineup changes, getting away with seven skaters on the ice shortly after puck drop. But once they found their footing, the desperation set in and the heavy forecheck came out.
Following a patient feed from Anders Lee, Devon Toews capitalized on a wraparound at 4:15 of the first for the early 1-0. It was the fifth straight game the Islanders scored first.
But just over two minutes later after a long shift in the Islanders’ zone, Varlamov let up a long rebound on a shot from Erik Cernak that Victor Hedman, once again, sent right back in to tie it up. That was nothing new, considering it was Hedman’s fourth time this series answering an Islanders’ goal with one of his own immediately after.