The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Tuesday’s game with a chance to join the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. For long stretches of the game it looked like they might pull it off, but Jordan Eberle, in the second overtime period, scored on a two-one-one rush to give the New York Islanders the 2-1 victory. With the loss, the Lightning move to 0-5 in their last five chances to advance to a Stanley Cup Final dating back to 2016.
Let’s get right to it.
There were some line-up changes for both sides to start the game. Brayden Point was out for the Lightning with Carter Verhaeghe replacing him. On the Islanders side, Barry Trotz decided to go with an 11/7 line-up, inserting Johnny Boychuck as his extra defenseman. He also switched up his lines with Cal Clutterbuck getting bumped up to the top line at the expense of Jordan Eberle who was moved down to the third line.
The Lightning didn’t look like a team looking forward to the next round as they came out skating well and generating a little early pressure. The only problem, and this would be a theme throughout the night, was that they weren’t able to capitalize with a goal.
Five minutes into the period the Lightning picked up their first power play as Kevin Shattenkirk made a nice move on Clutterbuck and drew a slashing call. The modified first unit (with Yanni Gourde taking Point’s place) had sustained pressure as they managed six shot attempts with three of them getting on net. Again, the Islanders defense bent like a willow in a windstorm but did not break.
Following the penalty, play seemed to stabilize a little with much of the play coming at the perimeter and both teams not spending a lot of time in each other’s offensive zone. Nick Leddy launched a shot from the top of the left circle on Andrei Vasilevsky with just under eleven minutes to go in the period. Neither team would record a shot on net for almost the next seven minutes.
The Lightning had killed thirteen straight penalties in this series. Give any NHL team fourteen chances and they are likely to score at least once. That’s exactly what the Islanders did as Ryan Pulock fired a one-timer from distance that beat a screened Vasilevskiy. Nick Leddy and NBC’s favorite player, Matthew Barzal, picked up the assists. For the fourth straight game, the Lightning had ceded the first goal.
Neither team really picked up their play following the goal. The Lightning had one good shift towards the end of the period that resulted in Victor Hedman’s shot knocking Johnny Boychuck’s skate blade off of his skate. Unfortunately with the veteran defender being able to skate as well as new-born calf, the Lightning weren’t able to capitalize.
The Lightning had the edge in possession after the first twenty minutes, but the Islanders were the better team early in the middle frame. They were more aggressive on the forecheck and pinned the Lightning in their own zone. The Bolts didn’t help themselves as they iced the puck on back-to-back occasions.
Still, they are the Tampa Bay Lightning and the talent they posses allows them to overcome sloppy play from time to time. Five minutes into the period, with much of it in their zone, they caught a break as Blake Coleman found open ice off of an angled pass off the boards by Luke Schenn.
Coleman cut in and fired a shot that Semyon Varlamov kicked out into the middle of the ice. Yanni Gourde came flying in, perhaps a bit too fast, and had the puck skitter between his legs. The Little Pumpkin did draw the attention of all of the Islanders that were backchecking who somehow missed Victor Hedman trailing on the play. With nothing but clear ice in front of him he wristed a shot past Varlamov to tie the game.
The Lightning perked up a bit after the goal. In fact, it looked like they had taken the lead a few minutes later when the rookie, Carter Verhaeghe snapped a wrister past Varlamov. Unfortunately, Cedric Paquette, who had made a nice play to win the puck along the boards to set up the “goal”, was roughly 75 feet offside entering the zone. The goal was rightly overturned upon review.
From there things settled into a similar pace as the first period. The teams traded the occasional offensive chances, but not much sustained pressure. The Lightning did have to kill a late penalty with Paquette in the box. Oddly enough, the Islanders had more pressure during the delayed portion, as they maintained possession for over a minute before the Lightning touched the puck.
New York wasn’t able to generate any real threats during their man advantage, in fact it was the Lightning who had the best chance as they had a three-on-two rush. Blake Coleman’s shot was easily gloved by the Isle’s netminder.
Zach Bogosian, of all people, had the best chance for the Bolts. He was on the end of a nifty pass from Verhaeghe that set the big defensemen up alone to Varlamov’s left. Bogo’s shot to the short side clinked off the iron (is it iron? Could it be steel?) and deflected away harmlessly.
With their season on the line the Islanders came out a little flat in the third, allowing the Lightning to control play early in the period. Even a power play a minute in after Blake Coleman was whistled for interference was ineffective for New York.
Still, the Lightning could not find the go-ahead goal. Nikita Kucherov had the best chance four minutes in as he snapped a shot from between the circles. Varlamov aggressively came out to shut down the angle and smothered it.
After that, the Islanders started to pick up their play. They won battles along the boards and kept the puck in the Lightning zone. A couple of turnovers and bad clears by the Bolts added to the tension.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, as the last line of defense, was the difference as he stopped three tough deflections over a three minute period. New York kept grinding, but the Lightning kept most of the play along the boards and limited the danger.
A late penalty by Anthony Beauvillier, who smacked Mikhail Sergachev right in the kisser with the blade of his stick - the textbook definition of a four-minute high-stick penalty, gave Tampa Bay a golden opportunity to end the series. The Lightning spent the final 1:23 of the period in the Islanders zone but couldn’t hit the back of the net. Ondrej Palat had a clean shot paddled wide and Hedman had a blast from the point tipped just wide.
The horn sounded with the game still tied. To advance the Lightning would have to win in overtime, again.
Overtime started with a boom and ended with a flurry. Unfortunately neither led to a goal. Still on a power play that carried over from the end of regulation, Kucherov snapped a shot through traffic that unfortunately found Varlamov’s right pad and the rebound sounded an audible boom in the crowdless arena.
For most of the extra period the Lightning skated in the Islanders zone while fending off the occasional offensive thrust by New York. Barzal had the best chance for either team as he found himself all alone in front of Vasilevskiy. He couldn’t get the shot up and a sprawling Vasy was able to smother it to the side.
Surge after surge by the Lightning was turned aside, as the Islanders did what a team whose next goal allowed would end their playoff run should do - blocked shots and sold out to deflect passes. As the clock was winding down Tampa Bay had one last flurry of activity and it appeared that a stickless Ryan Purlock may have covered the puck (which is a no-no), but he played it quick enough for the refs to keep the whistle away from their lips.
Cal Clutterbuck left the overtime period early after his chest found Carter Verhaeghe’s shoulder at the Islanders blueline.
The Lightning came out fast in the second extra frame but again the Isalnders defense and goaltender denied any goals. The best chance came from a high, hard shot by Ondrej Palat that caught Varlamov around the shoulder. The puck trickled just wide of the net and a diving Kucherov slid the rebound just off the outside of the post.
Leo Komorov drove to the net a few minutes later and was in position to bury a feed from Purlock, but Vasilevskiy got toe on it to deflect it off course. Bogosian shouldered Komorov to the ice making sure that the play was finished.
Anthony Cirelli sent in by a nice drop pass by Kucherov. Tony went backhand-forehand and dragged his shot just wide. Off the ensuring face-off, Kevin Shattenkirk had a chance to fire a shot on net, but his stick betrayed him. The puck fluttered to Anders Lee who played the puck to himself off the boards. Mikhail Sergachev was back on the two-on-one but wasn’t able to stop the cross-ice pass to Jordan Eberle. The former Oiler slid it right by Vasilevskiy for the game winner.