The Islanders continued their trip through the southeast in Tampa Bay. The Lightning haven’t been the powerhouse they were last season. But they’re still a strong team, as evidenced by their 7-1 thumping of the Sharks on Saturday night. Semyon Varlamov had to be on his A-game, and he was.
His competition was Curtis McElhinney, whom, you’ll remember, stepped in for Petr Mrazek last spring for the Hurricanes in the Second Round series and shut the door. It took an unlikely icebreaker to open the door for the Islanders, but the result was a comfortable 5-1 win.
First Period: Patience, Everyone
Similar to the other night in Dallas, the Islanders came out pretty quick and held on to the puck up until the first commercial break, but tonight they threw more pucks toward the net. However, they found themselves on the penalty kill. They kept the Lightning off the scoresheet, but it allowed Tampa to find their rhythm a little bit.
Still, though, Varlamov stopped everything he saw and the Islanders had the better of play in the first, even if it didn’t translate to any goals.
Second Period: A Boss’s Snipe, and his Bailey’s Shortie
The Islanders seemed to manage the puck pretty well in the second period until they got themselves on the board, courtesy of Ross Johnston. A little firewagon hockey led to rushes in both directions, and right after a killer save by Varlamov, Ryan Pulock retrieved the puck and feathered a pass through the neutral zone to the Boss, who sniped the puck past McElhinney, off the far pipe and in. He didn’t face McElhinney in the playoffs last season, if I recall correctly, so it was fitting that he was the one to solve him.
big man with some soft hands pic.twitter.com/aE9t7rTory— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 10, 2019
Better yet was that the Islanders scored again less than two minutes later, this one shorthanded. Shortly after the Johnston tally, Scott Mayfield took an iffy interference penalty against Nikita Kucherov, and Cedric Paquette slowed him up coming around the boards after the whistle. The two exchanged punches and got two minutes each for the roughing on top of Mayfield’s initial minor. On the kill, Casey Cizikas nearly scored on a two-on-one that went over top. The bouncing puck went the other way for a four-on-two that Tampa didn’t convert, and Cizikas dove to force the puck up the boards to Josh Bailey for a clean breakaway. Bailey got McElhinney to commit and lifted it over his leg to pad the lead.
heyyyyyy josh bailey, OOH AHH!— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 10, 2019
thanks for scooooring, a shorty! pic.twitter.com/4XbtaCSRU8
After that, Tampa Bay pushed harder and showed off the offensive talent they possess. A pretty tic-tac-toe passing play was finished off with a spin-o-rama by Steven Stamkos. Varlamov nearly got over to cover the net Stamkos was spinning toward, but just missed it.
Third Period: Surviving the Onslaught Before Taking Control
The Islanders sat back just enough for the Lightning to pounce to start the third, and Michael Dal Colle, after a few failed clears, took a penalty in the first minute. Varlamov was huge on the penalty kill. This New York kill was not nearly as strong as their most recent one, but they escaped without giving up a goal. However, the Islanders barely touched the puck in the first six minutes of the period, only getting their first shot just before the first commercial break. That’s to be expected with an offensively gifted trailing team like Tampa Bay, and Varlamov made some big saves.
Then, the insurance came. Trotz rolled Derick Brassard out with Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson for the first time in a few games and it paid immediate dividends. Brassard and Beauvillier cycled the puck down low and forced the Lightning to try to rush the puck around the end boards once they gained possession. As a result, the puck squirted out to Nelson in front of the net. McElhinney blocked his first attempt, but Nelson picked up the rebound and flicked it up high to make it 3-1.
The Lightning thought they had cut the deficit to one again on a goal scored by Victor Hedman, courtesy of a beautiful cross-ice pass from Kevin Shattenkirk. Barry Trotz was justifiably furious about the missed interference call at the blue line but there were bigger fish to fry. As it turned out, Tampa Bay was a mile offside on the zone entry, and the call was overturned by the officiating crew less than a minute after Trotz challenged.
The game remained 3-1 until Nelson snapped a wrist-shot to get his second of the period and give the Isles a three-goal cushion. They definitively put it away with a power play tip-in goal for Anders Lee by way of a Bailey shot and the final score was 5-1.
- 20th win of the season, third team in the league to reach that plateau this season. It’s nice that the Capitals lost tonight in regulation.
- Semyon Varlamov was excellent tonight against a powerful offense. They might not have won without his performance.
- Ross Johnston, I mean, how awesome was that? Did you see his face?! And, for what it’s worth, Barry Trotz pretty much confirmed he’s trying to convert Johnston into a power forward, though even he admits he doesn’t expect twenty goals or anything like that. He pointed to Tom Wilson of Washington as an example, and it’s an example he knows pretty well, since it’s his work. I am skeptical Johnston can become anything like that, but he’s still a pretty decent forward.
- Josh Bailey showed off the hands with his goal. When he had that break, I was certain that was going in. He added another point on Anders Lee’s goal—speaking of Lee, good to see him get his first power play goal of the year and even better that it came on a tip-in. One of those things that seems like he just needed the first one to go in for the rest to catch up.
- Brock Nelson scores in bunches, but we’ll take it. Also, Derick Brassard looks so much better on the wing with he and Anthony Beauvillier. If Lou Lamoriello could add a solid third center to this group, I’d be ready to go to war with that.
The Islanders finish up their three-game road trip against the Panthers Thursday night in Sunrise, Florida. 7:00 p.m. puck drop.