Isles come into this one desperate for a win after a heartbreaker on Wednesday
The Game One loss the Islanders suffered was horrible. It was some of the worst hockey the team had played in years. However, I️ think you can make the case that New York’s loss in Game Two was way more devastating to the Isles’ psyche. After surrendering eight goals in the first game, the Islanders played lights out in Game Two, holding Tampa to one goal in 59 minutes of gameplay. Then, disaster struck. With ten seconds left in regulation, Ryan McDonagh rifled a pass to Nikita Kucherov who was able to get the puck past Semyon Varlamov for a goal, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead with about nine seconds left in the game. There would be no miracle for New York as Tampa would take home the 2-1 victory. I️ cannot emphasize enough how deflating that loss was. Here was a team that allowed eight goals in 60 minutes their last time out, playing an amazing defensive game. The Isles were probably getting mentally prepared to go to the locker room to get ready for Overtime. Instead, with nine seconds left in regulation, Tampa found the back of the net, lifting them to the eventual victory in Game Two. It’ll be interesting to see how the Isles respond tonight at 8:00 PM EST.
Thankfully, the Islanders have a great leader in head coach Barry Trotz. The message he had following Wednesday’s loss was one of positivity. “I think the belief in our room is real good,” coach Trotz said on Thursday via a Zoom call. “I just feel like, you know, this series is real close to flipping here.” Captain Anders Lee reassured fans that the Isles will not let the Game Two loss bother them. “We’re not going to dwell on the loss, but you can look back on it and pick from it and build off it. I think we did a lot of good things but just came up short.” Hockey is clearly a game of inches. If McDonagh’s pass is a little bit off or deflected by a skate or stick, then it’s certainly possible we are having a completely different conversation today. Regardless, the Islanders did do a lot of good things in Game Two. There is a chance they can steal Game Three if they follow the gameplay they utilized Wednesday night.
The best thing New York did in Game Two was limiting Tampa’s scoring opportunities. Despite losing the game, New York was able to hold the Lightning to just 21 shots on goal. This is an incredible effort considering Tampa Bay averages 34.5 shots per game in the postseason. If the Islanders want to make a comeback in this series, they have to keep playing stout defense the way they did the other night. Furthermore, the offense did everything you could ask but find the back of the net. New York had more shots on goal, fewer penalties, and more face-off wins than the Lightning. Unfortunately, the puck bounced Tampa’s way in Game Two, leading to the eventual win. With all that in mind, I️ still think the Isles had the right approach to the game. They limited Tampa’s opportunities and made very few mistakes, which are both classic qualities of a Barry Trotz team. If the Isles play the way they did in Game Two throughout the rest of the series, then they could come back and extend this thing to seven games. Hell, they could even win this thing. It’s important to not get too far ahead of ourselves though. This two-game hole is going to be a tough one for the Isles to climb out of.
The Islanders are a good team. They’ve been somewhat lucky in this postseason, drawing a number of “offensively-challenged” hockey teams. I️ don’t want to take anything away from the Isles. However, they haven’t faced a team like the Lightning once this postseason. The closest they came was when they drew the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Qualifier. Even still, the Panthers don’t hold a candle to the Lightning. Tampa is 4th amongst all teams in postseason scoring while the Panthers were limited to just 1.75 goals scored per game. Even the top-seeded Flyers had their offensive challenges. Philly ranked 16th in scoring amongst all teams that qualified for the postseason this year. This Lightning team is just different. They have great goaltending and elite scoring. They are as dangerous as they were last year and twice as pissed off after being swept in the first round of the playoffs. The Isles simply have to win today’s game, or they may be bounced out of the Eastern Conference Finals without recording a single victory.
My gut tells me that the Lightning are going to win Game Three, then lose Game Four, and then win Game Five, defeating the Isles three games to one. I️ am going to go with my heart though on this one. My heart tells me Barry Trotz has his guys right where he wants them. Trotz and the Isles know that they can beat the Lightning. They just need to go out and actually execute their game plan for 60 minutes, not 59 minutes and 50 seconds. With confidence restored in their goaltenders, I like the Isles to win tonight’s game. The Islanders must win this game, or we may have to start bringing up the “s” word.