Sometimes the better team doesn’t win.
Some will point to the resiliency of the Islanders in avoiding elimination. Others will direct their attention to the Lightning not having that killer instinct. Neither of these are correct. With their best player absent for the second game of the series, and facing a team that had their backs up against the wall, Tampa Bay dictated everything last night.
At 5v5, they led in shot attempts (71-55), shots (30-22), scoring chances (35-24), high danger chances (12-6), and quality (xGF% 61 percent). Yet, all it took was one break to extend this Eastern Conference Final to a Game 6.
That one break, Kevin Shattenkirk whiffing on a point shot in double OT leading to the game winning goal by Jordan Eberle, will be scrutinized relentlessly. People will question how an NHL player can miss the puck at a moment like that.
“It’s just an unfortunate play,” Zach Bogosian said postgame. “Those happen now and again. Shatty has been awesome for us all playoffs. It’s not on him. They scored a timely goal.”
Plainly put, sh*t happens.
The Islanders have Semyon Varlamov to thank for keeping their Stanley Cup dreams alive. His performance in Game 5 was spectacular and the biggest reason why New York lived to play another day. That said, even without Brayden Point, Tampa Bay was the better team all night.
It’s unfair, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, and it’s the nature of the game at times.
“It came down to one play,” Victor Hedman said after the game. “It’s tough for us. It’s how you respond that will define you as a team. We’re not worried.”
Sure, there are things to rue about Game 5; a four minute power-play at the end of regulation that carried into overtime was the biggest blown opportunity. However, let’s caution the dramatics for a moment and realize how dominant Tampa Bay was in Game 5.
New York only managed 24 shots (22 at even strength) all evening. Tampa Bay refused to allow the Islanders to attack the slot throughout the game. There were a bevy of chances for the Lightning that they failed to capitalize thanks in large part to Varlamov putting together his best performance of the series. The way Tampa Bay played was about as good as it could’ve been last night, and they did it without Point.
Also, for the first time all postseason, Andrei Vasilevskiy lost a game where he gave up two goals or less.
“The overall effort from our group was very good once again,” said Hedman. “We’ve just got to regroup. I know how this team responds to adversity too. We’ve been through this before.”
Game 5 is over though and as much as the Lightning should be focused on Game 6, a lot of attention is going to be focused around Point’s availability moving forward.
“It’s too hard to tell right now,” Copper said postgame. “We’ve got to wait.”
Does Tampa Bay win Game 5 with Point in the lineup? More than likely. The Islanders two wins have come with Point out of the lineup and both games were winnable for the Lightning. Point’s importance isn’t just his productivity, but his ability to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his speed, tenacity, and creativity are paramount in driving play in Tampa Bay’s favor.
Nikita Kucherov had a great game last night with 14 shots being registered to him (five on net, four blocked, and five missing the net) while dominating in shot attempts 45-19 while on the ice, but was the sole target for the Islanders to abuse and focus on. As much as we would wish it so, Anthony Cirelli isn’t the offensive force that Point is, and doesn’t draw attention away nearly as effective.
What the Lightning needed last night, and moving forward, was other forwards chipping in offensively. Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman have found ways to contribute offensively this postseason, but the trio that consists of the Lightning second line when the lineup has been healthy haven’t been nearly as effective. Cirelli only has five points this postseason, and hasn’t recorded a point since Game 5 against Boston. Tyler Johnson, seven points this postseason, has one point this series (a goal in Game 3) and needs to be better. Alex Killorn, seven points this postseason, hasn’t recorded a point since Game 3 against Boston.
Cirelli saw himself center the top line with Kucherov and Ondrej Palat flanking him last night. The young center did well enough in driving play (26-20 in shot attempts and an xGF% of 68 percent) while skating over 31:19 last night, but his lack of production is becoming all too apparent this postseason.
Cirelli’s slot chance shortly before Erberle’s game winning goal just exacerbates the feeling.
“There are many capable bodies in this room,” said Killorn. “We’ve been through it before. It’s a next-man-up attitude.”
In terms of driving play Killorn is correct, but in terms of actual production the trio of Cirelli, Johnson, and Killorn are severely lacking in that department.
Regardless, Tampa Bay needs Point to be healthy if they want to win the Stanley Cup. If that means he has to sit out another game so his injury can be ‘managed’ like Cooper mentioned after Game 4, then the rest of the roster needs to start showing why the Lightning are considered one of the deepest offensive teams in the league.
Additionally, if they stick to the way they’ve played overall in this series then they should be able to close out the series.
“If you look at the game as a whole, if we keep doing that, I’m pretty confident in our group,” said Cooper. “They got a break and give them credit, they took advantage. Just turn the page and see you back here Thursday.”
Hopefully, we won’t be having the same conversation Friday morning.