The Tampa Bay Lightning lost just their third game in regulation this season; the New York Islanders beat them 5-3. The Bolts have often benefited from favorable shooting luck so far this year, and tonight, they felt what it’s like to get the opposite. They didn’t play particularly poorly and created plenty of chances relative to the Islanders, but the finish that they’ve been able to find all season escaped them tonight.
The worst stretch of play for the Lightning was the first ten minutes. They came out looking disorganized. Their passes were off target. Their spacing was bad. Their zone entries were poorly timed. Part of that was due to the solid defensive structure of the Isles, but much of it was self-inflicted.
New York opened the scoring less than a minute into the game with a goal by Andrew Ladd. After recovering the puck in the corner, Josh Ho-Sang found John Tavares who made a slick pass to Ladd in the left circle. The shot beat Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on the far side.
The Islanders continued to control the game after the initial goal and added another at the halfway point of the period. This time, Anders Lee finished a pass from Tavares on a 2 on 1 break. Vasilevskiy bears some of the blame for this one as he was beat five hole on a fairly weak shot by Lee.
The Lightning were much better in the second half of the period. They found some pace and were better in their attack through the neutral zone. They closed the shot gap and generated more chances. But even so, they were far from the lofty peaks of skilled play we’ve seen from them this season.
Despite being down 2-0, the game didn’t seem over after the first. The Bolts were definitely in the game and seemed more than capable of coming back to make a run at taking at least a point from the game.
The second period was fairly even. The Isles focused on protecting the lead and it mostly worked. The Lightning applied heavy pressure several times but were not able to find a goal. The top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov, along with Victor Hedman, had a particularly dangerous shift. This season, stretches like that almost have frequently resulted in goals. But not tonight. New York goaltender Thomas Greiss played well and kept the Bolts from getting back in the game.
With just under 13 minutes left in the period, Brock Nelson redeemed himself for missing an open net earlier by putting the Islanders up 3-0. He beat Jake Dotchin in the corner and skated in to finish from a sharp angle far post. Dotchin understandably expected Nelson to carry the puck below the net but he overcommitted and allowed the path to the goal.
Just in case the Lightning had any ideas about making a comeback in the third, New York put the game out of reach with a power play goal in the first minute of the final period. Matt Barzal started with play with a pass to Josh Bailey who took a shot from the slot. Vasilevskiy made the save but neither Braydon Coburn nor Tyler Johnson picked up Anders Lee who scooped up the rebound and scored easily standing all alone in front of the net.
Even after falling behind by four goals, the Lightning didn’t go quietly. They responded with two goals in less than thirty seconds to make things interesting. First, Yanni Gourde finished a rebound chance that started with a Slater Koekkoek shot from just inside the blue line that was deflected by Point in the slot.
Shortly after, Ondrej Palat exorcised some early season shooting demons by skating in full speed on the rush and beating Greiss from the left circle. Even though the goal didn’t affect the outcome of the game, it could prove to be important. Seeing the puck go in the net should take some pressure off of Palat and could get him back to playing more comfortably.
After the Palat goal, the Bolts continued to be aggressive and pressure the Isles. They forced Greiss to make saves and created chaos in the offensive zone. Eventually, that led to the ultimate False Hope Goal as Gourde pulled the Bolts back within one goal. He again scored after collecting a deflection in a scramble around the net. The Lightning have lived on pretty goals all year but Gourde was the star tonight, creating messes in front of the net and beating a goalie who was saving almost every clean shot he saw.
Vasilevskiy also did his part making several difficult saves to hold the Isles at four goals for the rest of the period. Aside from the Lee goal in the first period, he was solid. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough as New York held on to the lead and claimed the two points in regulation. Tavares iced the game for good with an empty net goal with 20 seconds left that earning his third point of the night.
While the Lightning likely won’t look fondly on their play tonight, it wasn’t miserable. They were competitive all night and were somewhat unfortunate to find themselves down 4-0. Every loss is bad in the moment but in the big picture scope of a full season, this one is fine. It didn’t suggest any major problems and unless we expect them to win every game, it shouldn’t be surprising for them to lose a game like this.
They play next on Wednesday against Chicago and given that the Hawks have one of the worst blue lines in the league, that could be a fun one.