The Tampa Bay Lightning offense lives and dies through their aggressive forecheck. It also benefits from a defensive unit that isn’t afraid to drive play in the offensive zone. These two factors were the foundation of the Lightning’s 8-2 victory against the New York Islanders in Game One of the Eastern Conference Final.
New York was obviously tired from traveling the day prior, but the Lightning took it to them early and often en route to victory. Tampa Bay spread out the offense with goals from Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov. New York received goals from Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy.
Let’s get into it.
Tampa Bay’s aggression and speed were apparent from puck drop as the Gourde line pinned the Islanders in the offensive zone immediately. Then, right as New York thought the pressure was lessening on a line change Brayden Point decided to remind New York that they haven’t dealt with a player like him before.
Point flying past Ryan Pulock shouldn’t be understated here. Pulock is a good defensemen in the NHL and Point made him look he didn’t even belong on the ice on this play. That is terrifying if you’re an Islanders fan.
Tampa Bay’s aggression didn’t lessen after Point’s goal as they refused to allow the Islanders to establish any offensive presence, but a ticky-tack penalty on Blake Coleman at 2:49 gave the Islanders all the presence they needed.
New York struggled for the first minute to get situated on the power-play but once they settled down they managed to strike.
Mikhail Sergachev whiffs on the puck and Andrei Vasilevskiy tries to over compensate for that. Eberle, to his credit, was just the right amount of patient on this goal and it was exactly what the Isles needed to get themselves back into the game.
Unfortunately, for the Islanders, the Lightning had different ideas as they went right back to dictating the pace at 5v5 and drawing a penalty of their own; this time a holding the stick penalty on Andy Greene at 6:16.
Tampa Bay took a little bit to get set up on the power-play. There was a good one-timer from Nikita Kucherov, but a shorthanded breakaway to Brock Nelson as well. A small adjustment off of a face-off in the dying seconds of the man advantage from Jon Cooper (putting Hedman back on the top power-play unit) gave them the break needed to regain the lead.
The Lightning continued to attack and two minutes later they added to their lead with Ryan McDonagh’s first goal of the postseason.
The biggest thing that Tampa Bay was doing to make the Islanders look disjointed and slow was how quickly they were moving the puck in the offensive zone. Notice how the puck doesn’t stay on one particular players’ stick for long in this sequence. The Islanders require their forwards to clog up shooting lanes, but they can’t do that if they’re out of position and trying to keep up with the puck movement.
New York did push back as the period waned, but a lot of their pressure wasn’t exactly dangerous. They drew within one in the shot attempt department (8-7 at 5v5 in Tampa Bay’s favor), but the quality was firmly in the Lightning’s favor at 61 percent. However, New York did have the edge in high danger chances (2-1), so something to keep an eye on moving forward.
The Lightning kept to their script from the first period and it paid off within the first five minutes (again). This time with Yanni Gourde scoring his fourth of the postseason off a neat play from Pat Maroon.
After this goal, the Islanders finally started to apply consistent pressure in the Lightning zone, but Tampa Bay did a good job keep the majority of it toward the outside. Though, New York was favoring low near the left side of the Lightning net, so that might be an area Tampa Bay might want to address moving forward in the series.
A good portion of this period was played on special teams as the Islanders and Lightning received two power-plays a piece this period. New York found some good chances on their power-plays but weren’t able to convert on any of them.
Tampa Bay on the other hand, reminded the Islanders that they’re a team they’ve yet to play this postseason.
Folks, there a lot of impressive and beautiful goals in hockey. Some that are even stunning gorgeous to look at on replay. But this goal by Brayden Point is just mind-boggling good. Not only does he signal to Hedman that he wants the puck, but he then redirects the puck, in mid-air, past Semyon Varlamov to give Tampa Bay a 5-1 lead. The level of hand-eye coordination to redirect that missile from Hedman is unreal.
New York, again, tried to dictate play as the period came to a close, but the Lightning managed to neutralize most of their dangerous chances. At least, until a late tripping penalty on Vasilevskiy gave the Islanders a power-play to close out the period.
Which then gave us this beautiful GIF.
That GIF is going to live in infamy for years after this.
Also, Vasilevskiy made this save during the period and it makes my groin hurt.
There’s little reason to break this period down. The Lightning kept their foot on the gas, in fact they mashed the pedal down a little harder.
Just enjoy the goal highlights, folks.
Say hello to the Lightning’s new franchise leader in postseason goals: Nikita Kucherov.
Hey look, the Islanders remembered to play hockey, maybe this will help them build some momentum for Game 2...
Five points for Point and Kucherov and five straight games with a goal for Palat. Unreal.
This is just getting uglier and uglier for New York.
Gourde scored the final goal in this one. No matter what excuses Islanders fans could muster Tampa Bay took it the New York in a manner that the Islanders were not expecting.
Game Two is Wednesday night, folks. Let’s see how both teams respond.
As much as the NBCSN made excuses for the Islanders being “tired”, Tampa Bay was just the better team through and through tonight. New York hasn’t played a team as talented or deep as Tampa Bay this postseason and it was apparent in this game. Still, the Islanders did make it to the conference final for a reason and they’re bound to bounce back stronger in Game 2. It’s just a matter of how the Lightning will approach Wednesday’s game when the Islanders come roaring back.
Enjoy the memes for tonight, but Wednesday brings a new challenge.