Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final saw the New York Islanders put an end to the longest current winning streak in the playoffs as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 Friday night. The score makes it look a bit ugly, but the Lightning simply made too many mistakes at crucial moments and the Islanders capitalized on them. Overall, the Lightning carried play at 5v5 and reminded New York that no lead is safe against them. Regardless, the absence of Brayden Point and Alex Killorn did hurt the Lightning this evening, it just wasn’t as much as we expected.
Let’s get into it.
The first ten minutes of the game were largely in the Lightning’s favor. Their forecheck and aggressive defense pinned the Islanders in their zone numerous times and created a bevy of chances. Semyon Varlamov was up to the task though as he thwarted every great opportunity Tampa Bay threw at him during this stretch of play. New York did create some good looks of their own, but they struggled to generate any consistent pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That is, until they got some luck from two areas: Vasilevskiy’s equipment and a fortunate bounce.
It’s understandable why Vasilevskiy would want a stoppage since his pad is quite literally barely hanging on, but the NHL usually stops play in one situation - if the goaltender’s helmet comes off. Does it make any logical sense from a player safety standpoint? No. But this is the NHL we’re talking about.
Add in the lucky bounce that Cal Clutterbuck gets after Ryan Pelech’s shot redirects off Zach Bogosian and it’s a recipe for disaster for Tampa Bay. That said, there was far too much standing around by the Lightning on this play. I’m not entirely sure why Barclay Goodrow goes all the way across the slot here since Tampa had the bodies covered. If he stays near Clutterbuck then this shot likely does nothing.
After the goal, New York finally began maintain some consistent offensive pressure and get some great scoring chances.
None better than this breakaway by
NBC’s favorite player Mat Barzal.
Tampa Bay turned it back around on the next several shifts as they pinned the Islanders in their zone. Then the Lightning showed New York why they’re deadly on every shift.
Yanni Gourde’s fake shot makes this goal happen. He manages to draw a defender (Jean-Gabriel Pageau) up ice and makes Clutterbuck move too far to one side. Mikhail Sergachev reads the play wonderfully as Gourde threads a pass through the slot. From that point, it’s Sergachev roofing a backhand that caught Varlamov off guard and tying the game at one.
Overall, this was a much faster period, pace wise, than expected. Between the two teams, there were 51 shot attempts (30-21 in Tampa Bay’s favor), and 30 shots on net (16-14 in New York’s favor). The Isles relied a lot on the few minute span after the Clutterbuck goal where they took control of the game, but Tampa Bay was the better team outside of that.
For the first six minutes of this period Tampa Bay dictated everything and had the Islanders on their heels. Unfortunately, once the Islanders got their first shot on net they found their groove. From that point on it was New York dictating the pace and forcing the Lightning into some precarious positions.
Then, the first penalty of the game occurred; Stephens for slashing at 9:16. The ensuing power-play didn’t do much that was deadly, but it did allow the Islanders to maintain possession in the offensive zone afterward. This possession, and pressure, eventually forced the Lightning into a mistake and the Islanders capitalized on it.
This is the first goal that New York has cleanly scored all series. The other goals they’ve scored have all been of the flukey variety. It’s a gorgeous shot by Pelech that catches Vasilevskiy slightly out of position.
Pelech's shot is good, and it's from close range, but Vasy loses his angle over so slightly because of the puck movement and traffic in front. He's probably 3-4" too far past the centerline and Pelech takes advantage. Slightly late on arrival and not set, too— Mike McKenna *LIVE* (@McKennaInGame) September 12, 2020
New York followed this up with another goal two minutes later.
A defensive breakdown along with Vasilevskiy going down a little too early and getting caught chasing the play; sometimes it’s that simple. For a period that started so well for Tampa Bay they let this one get away quickly.
The Lightning did fight back though as the top line pinned the Islanders for a prolonged shift that saw Varlamov turn aside multiple great shots to keep the Islanders lead at two.
The remainder of the period saw the Lightning try to pull within one, but, yet again, Varlamov was there to deny them at every turn.
If Tampa Bay wanted to put a death grip on this series, they needed to come out in the third with a far better effort in the third. Metrically they were in control, leading in every stat you would want except for the one that counts the most; goals.
The Lightning came out as well as one could expect to start the third period; fast, aggressive, and hungry. Their pace ultimately led to their first power-play of the game when Jordan Eberle was called for holding at 1:53.
Tampa Bay wasted little time capitalizing on it.
That was exactly what they needed as the Lightning continued to push the pace as the period went on. For some reason the Islanders looked far less engaged than in the previous period and Tampa Bay pounced on them shift after shift. Eventually the pressure paid off in the goals department.
Talk about getting a monkey of your back. This was Tyler Johnson’s first goal in seven games (Game 5 vs Columbus) and a boon for the Lightning as they scrounged their way back into a time game.
At this point, this is New York’s worst nightmare. Normally, the Islanders are good at closing games out, but Tampa Bay’s offense is something that can’t be held back by just sitting with a lead.
However, all it takes is one bad decision to completely throw away momentum.
This is all on Ryan McDonagh. Yes, the ensuing chaos in the defensive zone is an issue, but if McDonagh doesn’t make this pass to a well-covered Goodrow then the entire sequence doesn’t happen.
The Lightning tried to find another equalizer, but it was too little too late.
Following Pageau’s goal, chaos broke out after the Islanders forward turned and grabbed Kucherov in retaliation for getting slashed (Kucherov had been the target of multiple cheap shots by the Islanders all evening). After that, a fight broke out between Goodrow and Martin; Martin pretty convincingly won this tilt.
Tampa Bay was never going to sweep the Islanders. On the bright side, this was New York’s best attempt of the series and they barely beat a Lightning team that didn’t have Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, or Alex Killorn. Tampa Bay should still come out on top in this series, but there was little doubt the Isles would go down quietly.
This Lightning team isn’t like previous years. They’ll come back in Game 4 with a (hopefully) healthy Point and a fresh Killorn. Losing one game isn’t the end of the world even if it was a winnable one. They still have the series lead and have still given the Islanders fits at 5v5.
On to the next one.