Lightning clinch playoff spot with convincing 5-0 win over Islanders
Clear out your mid-April calendars, the Tampa Bay Lightning are heading back to the playoffs. With a solid 5-0 win over the New York Islanders, the Lightning have clinched, at the very least, the third spot in the Atlantic Division and an automatic berth into the postseason. Five different players scored, including Tanner Jeannot who picked up his first goal as a member of the team. Andrei Vasilevskiy had a busy, if unspectacular, shutout as he turned aside all 38 shots he faced on the night.
Alex Killorn recorded an assist in his 8ooth career game in the NHL while Darren Raddysh recorded his first two career points, both assists. Mikhail Sergachev, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point (who had a three-point night) recorded the other four goals. Ilya Sorokin was pulled from the Islanders' net after allowing 4 goals on 21 shots. Semyon Varlamov relieved him and stopped 10 of 11.
There was a bit of feeling out process early in the game, which isn't overly surprising for two teams that haven't seen each other in months and are fighting for playoff seeding. Up until the first TV timeout, much of the play was along the boards and in the neutral zone without either team even attempting a shot at goal.
However, following the break, the intensity picked up a bit with the teams trading zone time. Vasilevskiy had to be sharp with his right pad on a shot through traffic while, at the other end, Nikita Kucherov had a couple of solid looks at the net - sending one over the crossbar and another into Sorokin's pads.
A prolonged shift by the Lightning's top line did draw a power play in which they had two shots on goal before a penalty by Steven Stamkos ended it early. The Islanders managed a few shots on their abbreviated special teams play, but it would be late in the period before either of the teams drew first blood.
Another long cycle in the offensive zone led to Mikhail Sergachev with the puck at the left point. He threaded a low shot that deflected off of defender Alexander Romanov's shinpad and into the back of the net. For Sergy it was his 9th goal of the season and Darren Raddysh finally picked up his first point as a member of the Lightning.
Mikhail Sergachev (Ross Colton, Darren Raddysh) 1-0 Lightning
It was a tight-checking, playoff-style first period with the Lightning riding their top line to a strong possession period at 5v5. Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov combined for 6 of the teams 11 scoring chances and 5 of their 11 shots on net. The Bolts as a team continued their strong effort in the defensive zone as they limited the Islanders to just one high-danger chance at 5v5.
The second period has not been the best period for the Lightning this season. At least for one night, tonight, the story was a little different, and it started with a goal from someone who has been pressing for one for almost a month.
Tanner Jeannot was not brought into the fold to score goals, yet, no player wants to see a big fat zero under the "Goals Scored" column with their new team. Jeannot has had his chances in his previous 17 games with the Lightning, but hasn't been able to find the back of the net until tonight.
Go to the front of the net and good things happen. The Lightning had two players in front, with Corey Perry occupying the defense which allowed Jeannot to drift into an open space. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's pass was spot on and Jeannot was able to tap it in for his first goal as a member of the Lightning.
Tanner Jeannot (Pierre Edouard Bellemare, Ian Cole) 2-0 Lightning
The Islanders pushed back as they outshot the Lightning 9-2 following the goal. They also had a power play courtesy of a Raddysh holding penalty. New York had three shots with the extra skater, but Vasilevskiy pushed them all aside and his defense took care of the rest.
With the shorthanded experience behind them, the Lightning went back on the attack and eventually chased Sorokin from the net, although it's kind of hard to blame him for what followed. First of all, you don't just let Nikita Kucherov get behind you and have a clean breakaway from the blue line, yet that's what the Islanders' defense chose to do. Kucherov beat the goaltender cleanly and is now one goal shy of his fifth career 30-goal season.
Nikita Kucherov (Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev) 3-0 Lightning
The final puck of the night to get behind Sorokin was the result of a lucky bounce for the Lightning. Raddysh, all hopped up on the adrenaline from recording his first NHL point, brought the puck into the hashmarks and wisely dished it to his captain. Samuel Bolduc did what he was taught to do, tie up the goalscorer's stick. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do to take away Stamkos' skates and the puck hit them and deflected past Sorokin. So that's a shinpad goal and a skate goal for the Lightning tonight.
Steven Stamkos (Darren Raddysh, Brayden Point)
Out goes Sorokin and in comes Semyon Varlamov. The back-up goaltender stopped all five shots he faced over the last 8:15 of the period and saw a little kerfluffle in front of his net as Romonav and Corey Perry got into a tussle that ended with Perry being taken off of his skates. In the process of falling, his arm was behind Romonav's head and it kind of drove the defender's head into the ice. Both went off for penalties.
The Islanders did have the better run of play by a slight margin in that period with 20 total shots (something, something, score effects), but the Lightning still managed to post 10 scoring chances at 5v5 to New York's 11. The high-danger chances were also slightly tilted in New York's favor, 8-6. Vasilevskiy didn't have to make too many highlight reel saves, but he was extremely calm and well positioned to make the stops.
With a 4-goal lead heading into the final period, the main directive is to not get into any bad habits. Keep doing what was successful to gain the lead with a slight heavier focus on keeping the puck out of danger. In that sense, the first 10 minutes of the period weren't great for the Lightning. There were some turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones that the Islanders took advantage of, but nothing got past Vasilevskiy.
A power play just over six minutes into the period energize the Lightning. Not only did they kill it off without a shot on goal, they flipped the play on the ice. A short-handed breakaway by Anthony Cirelli was stopped by Varlamov, and then Alex Killorn almost added a highlight to his 800th career game as he wristed a shot through traffic that found iron.
The Lightning did earn a power play of their own and it wasn't exactly going smoothly early on as they struggled to enter the zone. They also had to watch Sergachev limp down the tunnel favoring his right leg as he was caught in an awkward collision trying to keep the puck in at the blue line.
When they did eventually get it into the zone, it didn't take long for them to score. It was, who else, Brayden Point. Kucherov teed him up in the slot and Point finished it off for his 48th goal on the season.
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn) Power Play, 5-0 Lightning
Pat Maroon and Cal Clutterbuck were assessed misconducts with time winding down as tempers drew short at the end of the game. While it had no real effect on tonight's game, it is something to keep an eye on when the two teams meet again next week.
The horn sounded on Andrei Vasilevskiy's s fourth shutout of the season (and second of the week) with the crowd serenading him with chants. With the win the Lightning secure a spot in the postseason for the sixth season in a row. They will enjoy a few days off before taking on the New York Rangers on Wednesday as they being their final road trip of the regular season.