Neither team had faced each other this season due to the pandemic-altered format. In fact, the last time these two teams faced each other was last year in the playoffs. But the rust didn’t matter for the Islanders.
Facing off in the Conference Finals for the second consecutive year, the New York Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 1. They silenced a raucous crowd that packed Amalie Arena, hoping to see their team beat the Isles and advance once again.
The two opposing goaltenders were up for the challenge, exchanging zeros in the first period. However, the Isles scored first in the second period thanks to Mat Barzal. They went up 1-0 and remained that way until the third period, when Ryan Pulock scored a great goal of his own. Semyon Varlamov was close to getting the shutout, but the Lightning got one back on a late power play. Despite this, the Isles were able to defend for their lives and secure the victory. Varlamov finished the night with 30 saves on 31 shots.
Scoreless First Period
At the opening of the game, the atmosphere was electric. There was a loud, Tampa Bay crowd that was ready to cheer for the entire 60 minutes. The players felt that energy and it translated to their play. Just eight seconds into the game, a penalty was called on both Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow for unsportsmanlike conduct. Neither team could take advantage of the four-on-four play, however.
Both goaltenders showed their skills in this opening frame. Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Veznia trophy nominee this season, made some great saves to keep the Isles off the scoreboard. One of his best moments during this period was a great double save against Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri. Pageau was given the puck and tried to go to the right of Vasilevskiy, but he made the pad save. Pageau quickly got the rebound and went around the net to give the puck to Palmieri but Vasilevskiy was able to read the move and make another save.
On the other side of the ice, Varlamov kept the Lightning at bay with some nice saves, including one on a Tampa penalty kill. Blake Coleman forced a turnover and chased after the puck. He arrived just as the Isles were able to catch up to him, but not before shooting. Varlamov made a nice save to stop him.
Islanders Strike First
The two teams were playing with such intensity, you could tell that someone was going to score soon. Even though it took almost half of the second period, it was worth it. Steven Stamkos, who was getting off the ice, received the puck and quickly passed it before the line change. However, it was a bad pass that went right to Josh Bailey instead. Bailey saw Barzal speeding ahead towards the net and sent the long pass. Barzal received it and headed straight into Vasilevskiy, sending the puck right underneath him and between the pads. He crashed into the net right after the puck went in and the Isles were up 1-0. It was Barzal’s fourth goal in his last five games.
Before that, Bailey had a golden chance of his own about three minutes in. He forced a turnover and caught everyone off-guard. Finding himself one-on-one with Vasilevskiy, he went across the face of the net to go for the backhand shot, but it hit the post. The Lightning had numerous turnovers this period that undermined all the hard work they had been putting in. Thanks to their goaltender, they were lucky that the Isles didn’t score more goals.
Tampa Strike Late, But Islanders Hold On
Against an electric offsensive team like the Lightning, a one-goal lead would not be enough. The Isles had to get an insurance goal to ease some of the pressure as they tried to close out the game. Thankfully, Pulock was up to the task.
About five minutes in, he scored a laser of a shot. Jordan Eberle was fighting for posession far out to the left of Vasilevskiy, along with a couple of other players. He was able to win the puck and found Pulock further out. Pulock received the puck and skated to this left, noticing a slight gap in Tampa’s defense. He slightly centered himself, wound up and went for the slap shot, sending it home. It wasn’t completely clean, as it went off the goaltender and into the net. It was Pulock’s fourth goal of the playoffs and would ultimately be the game-winning goal.
Tampa would not just lay down and die, however. Brock Nelson foolishly gave up a late penalty with just 1:38 remaining by high-sticking Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning saw the opportunity and used this to their advantage. With their net empty, it became six-on-four and it was only a matter of time before they scored. Their small hope came from Brayden Point, who went to the top right against Varlamov. Kucherov started it from the outside, sending it in to Alex Killorn who quickly set up Point in front of net. It was his ninth goal of the playoffs and the Lightning ended the night 1-2 on the power play. The Islanders, on the other hand, ended 0-3 on the power play.
With 54 seconds left, the Islanders locked it down despite the man advantage for Tampa. They sealed a crucial away win that is a great morale-booster to start the series with.
It was a great game for the Islanders, who showed their tough, gritty defense. The Lightning are one of the best offensive teams in the league; in fact, Point has the most goals in the playoffs so far and Kucherov leads the league in both assists and points. Even though both weren’t completely quiet tonight (the lone Tampa goal was by Point, assisted by Kucherov), they were still subdued. The Islanders will have to keep finding ways to stymie Tampa’s offense if they want to win.
And, of course, Varlamov will have to keep being excellent.
The Isles will also have to be better on the power play. They were 0-3 tonight after using it so well in their last series against the Bruins. A good balance between offense and defense should be enough to send them to the Stanley Cup Finals–and a win tonight was a great start.
Game 2: Tuesday, June 15th at 8:00 in Tampa
Game 3: Thursday, June 17th at 8:00 on Long Island
Game 4: Saturday, June 19th at 8:00 on Long Island
Game 5 (if needed): Monday, June 21st at 8:00 in Tampa
Game 6 (if needed): Wednesday, June 23rd at 8:00 on Long Island
Game 7 (if needed): Friday, June 25th at 8:00 in Tampa