The goaltender was down. The puck was headed into the net with seconds to spare. Then a blue-clad skater slid in and deflected it wide as the horn sounded. Ryan McDonagh’s last-second spinning shot was kept out of the net not by goaltender Semyon Varlamov, but by defender Ryan Pulock as the New York Islanders held on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in Game Four of their semifinal series.
New York took the lead with three second-period goals, but the Lightning shook off their middle frame doldrums with goals by Brayden Point (who scored in his seventh game in a row) and Tyler Johnson to make it close. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 30 in the loss while Varlamov was stopped 28 of the 30 he faced. Ryan Pulock was one for one in save opportunities.
The Lightning quietly built an early lead in shots on net over the first five minutes (6-1) of the game, but it was the Isles with the first real prime opportunity when Nikita Kucherov lost an edge in the Islanders zone that led to an odd-skater rush the other way. Vasilevskiy didn’t make the save on Kyle Pamieri’s shot, but the post did. Thank you post.
The Lightning were playing a nice, structured game in which they weren’t really focusing on the quality of their shots, but racked up the quantity. The shots were coming from pretty much everywhere, with the Yanni Gourde line in particular was up to their old tricks with a nifty 6-0 edge in shot attempts while they were on the ice during the first half of the penalty.
Remember that post from earlier in the period? It made another nice save midway through the period when Mathew Barzal sailed a shot in on net that Vasilevskiy never saw. So, eleven minutes into the game Vasy had three saves and right post had two.
Vasilevskiy did outshine his metal friend when the Lightning were up a skater following a Cal Clutterbuck roughing call. A bad entry and a turnover at the blueline sent Leo Komarov in all alone on the Lightning netminder but his shot was denied by the blocker. After that gaffe, the second unit for the Bolts generated a chance or two on the power play, but had no goals to show for it.
The Isles play strengthened as the period went on and their aggression did disrupt the Lightning breakout attempts and cause their offense to stutter in the neutral zone. There was a little sense of desperation to the way New York was attacking, but Tampa Bay didn’t panic even when their clearing attempts failed, they just regrouped and denied the Islanders from any really good chances.
There wasn’t much going on to start the second period period until a turnover let Kucherov and Brayden Point in on a two-on-one. Kuch slid the puck under the lone defender but Point’s redirect was eclipsed by Varlamov’s pad. Scott Mayfield, not learning anything from Adam Pelech’s move in Game Two, then buried Point into Varlamov. There was no penalty on Point this time.
Stop shoving players into your goaltenders dot gif pic.twitter.com/wPOFjMVIUG— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) June 20, 2021
While the Lightning did continue to build up the lead on the shot counter, it was the Isles that took the lead on the scoreboard with just their 7th shot of the game. Josh Bailey took advantage of a turnover and a poor line change to flick a wrist shot that caught Vasilevskiy leaning the wrong way. Just like that, in a game where the Lightning were pretty much in control, the Islanders had the lead.
Josh Bailey (Brock Nelson, Anthony Beuvillier)
The game continued it’s choppy flow with both teams doing their best to disrupt each others offensive game plans. That led to a bit of a mucky game without a lot of flow either way. Twice Lightning defensive pairs were stuck on the ice for unreasonable long amounts of time (Ryan McDonagh and Erik Crenak for almost three minutes at one point).
Tampa Bay wasn’t really able to generate much when they did have the puck, with most of their shots simply being gloved down by Varlamov. It was the same for the most part on the other end of the ice, but Mathew Barzal was able to take advantage of a stickless Brayden Point to knock home a rebound into an empty net. Just like that it was 2-0 in favor of the home team.
Mathew Barzal (Kyle Palmieri, Cal Clutterbuck)
It looked like the Lightning might survive the period after killing off an ensuing power play for the Islanders. Yet, another turnover led to the Islanders third goal. Brayden Point had the puck under control, but circled into the middle of the ice and lost possession. That led to a rebound goal by Matt Martin (which stood after an offside challenge by the Lightning).
Matt Martin (Cal Clutterbuck, Adam Pelech)
The first two periods had a similar feel to Game One. The Lightning’s mistakes ended up in the back of the net and they lacked an urgency on offense.
With just twenty minutes to turn things around, the Lightning needed to start pressing. Unfortunately, against the Islanders that could lead to more problems. Josh Bailey picked off a cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos that turned into a prime chance for Brock Nelson, but his shot went wide.
Shortly after that miss, Brayden Point snapped a shot on goal from about 40 feet out that eluded Varlamov. It wasn’t officially time to get excited, but it probably kept some Lightning fans from switching the channel.
Brayden Point (Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak)
Perhaps the Islanders took the wrong lesson from the Lightning’s Game Three win and sat back on their heels a little too much. An excellent effort from Tyler Johnson, yes that Tyler Johnson, made it 3-2.
Tyler Johnson (Nikita Kucherov)
Barry Trotz quickly called a timeout, and for the first time all night there was a sense of unease among the boisterous Islanders crowd. Following the stoppage the Lightning kept the pressure on, and created some extended pressure in the New York zone for the first time all night.
With six minutes to go, the opportunities for the tying goal started to pile up. First it was Ross Colton sliding out and snapping a shot that was destined to sneak inside the far post before it grazed the outside of Varlamov’s glove. Kucherov followed with a prime opportunity from the slot that Varlamov stopped, perhaps his best of the night.
The Isles were able to blunt the momentum with a long shift in the Lightning zone. As the Bolts struggled to get the puck out of the zone, the clock ticked down. With just under two minutes to go, they pulled the goaltender but weren’t able to keep the puck in the zone. A tripping call on Hedman with 1:12 to go negated the extra skater advantage.
New York did an excellent job of killing off the clock by just passing the puck around the perimeter for roughly 30 seconds. It looked like they would hold on easily, but one last gasp by the Lightning almost capped off an amazing comeback.
The Bolts got the puck in deep and Kucherov chipped a pass back to Ryan McDonagh who was crashing the net. The puck rolled on him a bit so he couldn’t rip a one-timer, but Varlamov came way out to challenge him. McDonagh mashed the L2 button and spun backwards, snapping off a shot that was heading into the vacated net. Fortunately for the Islanders, Ryan Purlock slid across the net and stopped the puck before it crossed the line.
The two teams will head back to Tampa with the series tied at two for an important Game Five on Monday night.