Why win in regulation when you can win in regulation? The Tampa Bay Lightning once again prevailed in bonus hockey as Anthony Cirelli, felled earlier in the game with a knee-to-knee hit, slid a puck past Semyon Varlamov to give the Lightning a 2-1 victory, their sixth overtime win of the playoffs.
Brayden Point returned to the line-up replacing Carter Verhaeghe. That was good news for the Lightning. They also had to be somewhat pleased to see that top-pairing defender Adam Pelech was out for the Islanders.
It would have been nice, following a two-overtime loss in the previous game, for the Lightning to come out and score early. If not early, at least first. Despite a sold first couple of shifts, it would be the Islanders recording the first goal as they have in the previous four.
Taking a chapter from the Lightning, New York started the offense with a rush by a defender. Devon Toews attacked the net to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left. The big netminder was sold on Toews shooting the puck and overcommitted a bit. The blueliner kept it quickly darted behind the net and was able to tuck it into the net before Vasilevskiy could recover.
It was a nice goal, but the Islanders caught a bit of a break as the officials somehow missed seven New York skaters on the ice at the same time. Perhaps they felt a little bad about that because they decided to take the majority of the next ten minutes of hockey off.
Victor Hedman didn’t wait long to tie things up. The top line, reunited and looking so good, danced the puck around the offensive zone for a solid thirty seconds before getting the puck to an open Erik Cernak. He unloaded a shot from the point that Varlamov kicked out to the middle of the ice. The Islanders were playing a four-corner defense and Hedman walked into the slot all by himself and slapped the rebound home.
It’s Hedman’s ninth goal of the playoffs and ties a record for most goals by a defenseman before the Stanley Cup. It also ties him for third all-time for goals by a blueliner in a playoff season.
The ice really opened up for the majority of the period. Mikhail snuck in close and rang a shot off the iron. The first and third lines kept coming in waves against the Islanders defense who relied way too much on Varlamov to bail them out.
For New York, they were able to counter from time to time due to the aggressive play of the Lightning defense. Noah Dobson, playing in his first game of the playoffs, had one of their better chances as he wired one just wide of the net off the rush.
The Lightning had one more golden chance as the period wound down to its conclusion. Alex Killorn, who had a solid period, danced around an Islanders forward and set up Anthony Cirelli who was alone in the left-circle. Cirelli, who has been fighting an offensive slump all series long, had the puck nick the heel of his stick. Had he caught it clean, it most likely would have been in the back of the net.
A game after seeing the offensive stifled by the Islanders, the Lightning racked up 37 shot attempts and 17 shots on goal in just 20 minutes. They also stayed out of the penalty box which was nice.
The Islanders came out with a rush right as the puck dropped, but Vasilevskiy kept the puck out of the net despite the pile-up of bodies in front of him. For New York, that would be their last bit of offense for a long stretch.
Just after that, Varlamov made an extremely tough save on an innocent play. Ondrej Palat brought the puck into the zone and centered a pass that hit Matthew Barzal at the top of the circle and ricocheted on net. The goalie got just enough on it to keep it from sliding inside the post.
At even strength the Lightning were dictating play and then they went on the power play. It was a clinic on how to execute. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pull off the most important part - actually scoring. The best chance came with Point right in front of Varlamov, but the goaltender stoned him and then deflected the rebound attempt from Sergachev.
A follow up penalty just after the first one experienced wasn’t quite as effective as the first for the Lightning and the Islanders seemed to catch their breath a bit. After not generating a shot early in the period, they started to keep the puck in the Lightning zone with Cal Clutterbuck hitting the post.
With about four minutes to go there was an unfortunate collision between Anders Lee and Anthony Cirelli. As the Islanders were bringing the puck into the zone (and drawing a penalty from Tyler Johnson) Lee was hurrying out of the zone and extended his leg as he slid back onside. Unfortunately, Cirelli was hustling into the zone to defend and their knees collided violently with the young Lightning forward pinwheeling into the zone. He was helped off the ice and didn’t return.
The Lightning ended up with the best chance as they were able to generate a three-on-two at the end of the penalty. Eric Cernak had the puck alone in the slot, but had it roll off the edge of his stick.
The period ended as it begun - tied at one.
Lightning fans worldwide breathed a sigh of relief as Cirelli returned to the ice in the third period. After a back and forth first period, the game had regressed back to a bit of sludgy, back-and-forth affair that was mostly played along the boards.
The Islanders seemed to dominate in terms of time spent in the Lightning zone, but when Tampa Bay did emerge with the puck, they held their own in terms of directing shots toward Varlamov.
With six minutes to go in the period, Toews went back into the penalty box after he batted the puck over the glass into the canvas-covered seats. Despite Kucherov and Point spending the majority of the time on the ice, they couldn’t get a shot on net.
After a sustained attack by the Islanders (including a shot that felled Cernak) Anthony Cirelli was able to get the puck into the New York zone, setting up Hedman for two big shots that Varlamov turned aside.
The Lightning had several chances in the final two minutes, The pressure didn’t result in a goal, but it did draw a high-stick from Andy Green with 23 seconds. For the second game in a row a four-minute penalty was dished out in the final minutes of regulation.
Andrei Vasilevskiy came up big on the power play. That’s not how you want to describe an overtime power play, but his stop on Brock Nelson’s breakaway was huge during the early minutes of the period. The Lightning did generate a few chances, twice Kucherov almost banked shot-passes off of Ondrej Palat who was posted behind Varlamov.
The Islanders had their chance with the man advantage midway through the period as the Lightning were caught with too many men on the ice (sure, now the refs can count to six). There would be no goal for New York.
Then things settled down a bit.
Then things got crazy.
Anthony Cirelli scored the biggest goal of his young career. Barclay Goodrow fought through a check and controlled the puck behind the Islanders net and threw it in front. CIrelli fought and pushed the puck to the far side, off the post, and into the net behind Varly. A pause....longer....then the ref pointed at the goal.
Bring on the Dallas Star