There was an opportunity to be seized on Monday - one in which the Bolts could have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Unfortunately, this was a night on which the Bolts, playing without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman for a while, did not seem to be firing on all cylinders. Ben Bishop had a game he would love to forget, as would many on the Lightning defense.
The game did start off fairly well for the Bolts. An early power play for the Lightning, while unsuccessful, got some great shots. That, along with a willingness to play physical, allowed them to carry some momentum through much of the first period, until Kyle Okposo fired a shot from the right side boards. It bounced off the leg of defenseman Ryan Pulock, who was parked in front of Ben Bishop, and into the back of the net at 13:18. The second assist went to John Tavares.
As in the first period, the second started off on a good note. Alex Killorn tied it up at 2:08 off of a fantastic dish by Nikita Kucherov. Killorn went in alone on goaltender Thomas Greiss, who had sprawled out in an attempt to make the save. With Greiss lying flat on the ice, Killorn slipped the puck underneath his left pad for his 14th goal of the season.
But just about midway through the period, things really began to unravel. After the Islanders fourth line won a faceoff in their own zone, Cal Clutterbuck quickly streaked up the ice. Just as linemate Matt Martin had begun to slip around the Lightning defense, he took a pass from Clutterbuck, snapping it past Bishop's glove hand. The goal, scored at 11:00, was also assisted by Casey Cizikas.
A little more than four minutes later, some bad luck hit for the Lightning when Cedric Paquette and his line looked like they were going to surely score a goal to tie it up again. But the puck bounced free between the circles and Nikolay Kulemin passed it up to Brock Nelson. Another forgettable play for the Lightning blue liners, Nelson split the defense and shot a backhand past Bishop at 15:23.
Less than a minute later, Islanders captain John Tavares scored his 30th goal of the season with a slap shot on the rush. The power play goal, which Bishop probably still wants back, was scored on the power play and put the Islanders up 4-1.
The Lightning were unable to respond until the 19:53 mark of the second period, when Matt Carle fired a shot toward the net. The shot was blocked, a theme for the evening, but the puck bounced over to a waiting Victor Hedman along the left side boards. He dropped down just a few feet and ripped a shot over the shoulder of Greiss to make it 4-2.
At 4:28 of the third period, we would finally see a goaltending change. For some inexplicable reason - perhaps signaled back in front of the net by Bishop - Victor Hedman let go of a chance behind the net to clear the puck. John Tavares came in and scooped up the puck, dishing it to defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk ripped a one-timer past a visibly frustrated Ben Bishop.
Andrei Vasilevskiy came into the game and stopped all 13 shots he faced. With the Lightning playing the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow against the New York Rangers, it will be interesting to see if head coach Jon Cooper goes back to Bishop or if he sticks with Vasilevskiy.
While Ben Bishop didn't have a great performance by any means, this one cannot be pinned squarely on him. Too often during the game, the defensive core left him out to dry, and the offense seemed sluggish. We will see if they can rebound tomorrow against the Rangers when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
- During the game, it was announced that the Lightning had signed 2015 second round pick Mitchell Stephens to a three-year entry level contract.
- The Lightning were 0/4 on the power play, despite taking quite a few shots toward Thomas Greiss. The penalty kill went 1/2.
- It was a very physical game, with the Islanders racking up 38 hits and the Lightning getting 24.
- The Islanders blocked 19 shots.
- Slater Koekkoek and Jonathan Marchessault were the healthy scratches for the Bolts.