Simply calling Monday night’s 8-0 win over the New York Islanders a “rout” is comical. This wasn’t a rout; this was a complete evisceration of an opponent. The Tampa Bay Lightning have the talent to unload as they did Monday evening, but against an opponent as stout and disciplined as the Islanders? That requires a descriptor beyond “impressive.” From puck drop to the reverberating sound of Amalie Arena’s horn signaling the end of the game, this was a masterful display of domination by the Lightning.
“It was a matter of time,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “(Monday) was time.”
A matter of time is certainly one way of putting it, but it also doesn’t give enough credit to what the Lightning did in this game. According to Natural Stat Trick, in all situations, the Lightning never fell below an expected goals rate of 55 percent throughout the game; they dominated shot attempts 58-44, shots 42-21, scoring chances 41-28, and, obviously, goals 8-0.
They edged out the Islanders in high-danger chances 15-12, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made those high danger chances feel like nothing. Meanwhile, neither Semyon Varlamov (pulled in the first period) or Ilya Sorokin could stem the offensive onslaught thrown at them. Tampa Bay pounced on loose pucks, won 50-50 puck battles, outskated the Islanders in every zone, forced eight(!) odd-man rushes, and vivisected New York’s penalty kill.
There were plenty of helpful bounces that helped propel the Lightning, especially in the first period, but there is little doubt they deserved them. New York looked pensive in the opening period, and Tampa Bay took full advantage of them. The Islanders pride themselves on their adherence to their structure and being patient; they wilted under Tampa Bay’s relentless attack.
“We played really well in all zones,” Alex Killorn said. “I really liked the way we broke the puck out. Guys were skating. We were winning battles. We were winning battles to forecheck. The first one kind of a fortunate bounce for us, but I think when you work hard and do the right things, those bounces kind of come your way. Really happy with the way the team played throughout the whole game. It was a good team effort.”
The most promising aspect from Game 5 centers around the Lightning’s second line of Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, and Killorn clicking offensively and alleviating pressure from the top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. The line hasn’t been ‘bad’ offensively, but they’ve struggled to carry play at junctures throughout the postseason, so seeing this line get four goals (two from Stamkos and Killorn each) is promising.
Questioned about his health before Game 5, Stamkos reiterated he was healthy enough to play and wouldn’t divulge any extra information. His performance Monday night (and this postseason—he has 17 points in 16 games, he’s been great) merely reinforces how good he still is. Stamkos might not be the team’s best player anymore (he’s arguably the fourth-best at this point), but he’s still a key cog in what makes this Lightning machine work.
There were plenty of scrums and fights in this one as the Islanders shifted from playing hockey to sending messages as the game progressed. Their frustration reached a boiling point when Mat Barzal cross-checked Jan Rutta in the head that saw him get ejected at the end of the second period. There’s a possibility for external discipline to be levied on Barzal, especially if the league thinks he abused an official after the incident. Personally, I think what the officials called on the ice suited what happened, but the league’s player safety department likes to play darts, so we’ll see how that plays out.
If, and I strongly emphasize that “if”, Barzal does get suspended for Game 6, then New York’s uphill battle will only get tougher. Barzal’s elevated his play compared to last year's Eastern Conference Final, where he couldn’t handle the moment. He’s clearly the Islanders' best player, and he was on a strong goal-scoring run until this game. However, the real goal-scoring run that has everyone’s attention belongs to someone else.
Brayden Point entered even more rarified air Monday night. By scoring his 13th goal of the postseason (one away from his franchise record of 14 set last postseason), Point extended his consecutive playoff games with a goal to eight games. Only one player in NHL history scored in more consecutive playoff games than him—Reggie Leach (who scored in 10 consecutive playoff games).
This is insane, Brayden Point. pic.twitter.com/RLGfZAvFJS— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 22, 2021
It gets even more absurd when we take a larger look at Point’s postseason production.
Point has 35 playoff goals in his first 60 playoff games. The list of players who have scored more than him in the same time span is eight: Mario Lemieux (52), Wayne Gretzky (46), Brett Hull (45), Maurice Richard (45), Mike Bossy (41), Jari Kurri (40), Joe Sakic (37), Leach (36). Seven of those names are in the Hall of Fame.
“You need heavy players when you get deep into the playoffs!” they screamed, as Brayden Point continued to cement his status as his generations most ruthless playoff scorer.— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) June 22, 2021
All of this optimism still comes with a caveat—the series isn’t over. The Islanders aren’t eliminated and are expected to play their best game on Wednesday night. The Lightning is in a prime position to close this series out, but they better be ready for a desperate Islanders team that will be feeding off a raucous Nassau Coliseum.
“If that doesn’t motivate us, I don’t know what will,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve just got to man up. We’ve got to leave our best game out there (Wednesday).”
Two chances for a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup Final to properly defend their status as defending champions. They better be ready.
- I’m not superstitious, but I am a little-stitious, and hilariously enough, every game that the Lightning has won this postseason has come after I play Warzone for a while before puck drop. Is it a coincidence? Likely. Am I ‘stitious’ enough to keep it going to help the Lightning get back to the Stanley Cup Final? Damn right I am. Where we droppin’ boys?
- As I perused Twitter during the game, which is both a blessing and a curse, I noticed quite a few New York fans complaining about the Lightning trotting our their top power-play unit with a huge lead. Maybe they forgot about the three-goal lead they nearly blew in Game 4, but Tampa Bay made it a point to put this game out of reach, and they did so emphatically. Also, this is playoff hockey; win or pack your bags time of year. There is no argument for ‘class’ when your team is getting its teeth kicked in. Stop them from scoring or get off the ice.
- According to Natural Stat Trip, through Game 4, the Lightning underperformed their Expected Goals For in all situations by 0.67 goals (9 goals against 9.67 xGF). This is uncharacteristic for a team filled with players that are above average to elite shooters that regularly outperform their Individual Expected Goals. Game 2 was the only game the Lightning had exceeded xG by a significant margin (4 GF to 2.98 xGF). The positive has been that the Lightning, thanks in large part to the stellar play of Andrei Vasilevskiy, have been outperforming their Expected Goals Against (8 GA to 11.24 xGA). This was the first game where they really outperformed getting the 8 goals against 4.17 xGF. While this may have been the easiest playoff shutout Vasilevskiy got, he still allowed no goals against 2.11 xGA. Vasilevskiy continues to lead all NHL goalies in the playoffs for Goals Saved Above Expected and now has saved 5.34 goals above expected just in this series.
- Enjoy this ride while it lasts folks, with the flat cap staying for the foreseeable future, this Lightning roster will see a lot of roster turmoil in the coming years. Let’s make sure if the Lightning does end up doing ‘the thing,’ we make it a memorable one. Even if the Lightning doesn’t ‘do the thing’, this is the best era of Tampa Bay hockey ever. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Love it.