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Lightning 2, Islanders 1 (OT): Fluky Cirelli goal sends Isles home in Game 6

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The elimination stings, but man was it a fun ride. I am so proud of this team.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Islanders - Game Six
It sucks right now, not going to lie. But I’m so happy they got this far.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well folks, it was a great run. An amazing run, really. It was stressful as hell—my heart was basically pounding the whole game—but incredibly fun. 2020 has been a truly horrible year overall but this team’s run over the last month-and-a-half was one of the few bright spots of it.

This team got closer to a Stanley Cup than any Islanders team since 1984, ten years before I was born. I’ll never forget this run. And I’m hopeful they can come back next season and make another run.

Semyon Varlamov got the start in net tonight and he was fantastic. To be honest, this was the Lightning’s game. Were it not for Varlamov tonight, and really throughout the series, the Islanders probably don’t keep this series close. But it took one of the lamest series-clinching goals, on Tampa Bay’s 48th shot of the night, to beat him. He was great.

Injury Updates

The Islanders, already without fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, lost Adam Pelech, as we found out in warm-ups. Rookie Noah Dobson drew in for him and made his postseason debut as Barry Trotz kept up the eleven-forward, seven-defensemen rotation. (Dobson was, frankly, excellent. Calm, cool, collected, and made almost all the right plays. He’s going to be good, friends.)

We learned, after the game, that Pelech suffered a broken wrist in Game 5. In the beginning of Game 5. And played the rest of the game. Wild. That’s some warrior stuff right there.

And we also learned that Casey Cizikas’ injury was a detached retina. Yikes. Hopefully he’s okay.

Meanwhile, Brayden Point returned to the Tampa Bay lineup to give them a boost and more depth.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | NHL Gamecenter | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period: Early Goal, but All Lightning

The game got off to a quick start. Devon Toews pinched in as a pass came from Anders at the point. The puck bounced off a leg near the front of the net and landed right on his stick. Toews went for a wraparound and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy, who over-committed to the side the puck was originally on.

However, only 2:13 later, the Lightning tied the score. Victor Hedman fed Erik Cernak at the point and then cruised into the middle of the ice as the rebound from Cernak’s wrist shot popped out to him. Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield were both puck-watching a little bit and Hedman easily snapped one point blank under the arm of Varlamov.

The Lightning controlled play through the first period, badly out-shooting the Islanders, but Varlamov was superb after allowing the goal to Hedman. That would be a theme tonight.

Second Period: The Tide Starts to Turn

Jordan Eberle had a quick start to the second with two early chances, but apparently they did not count as shots-on-goal because they weren’t credited with one until the midway point of the period, as the broadcast was eager to remind us.

Toews took a delay-of-game penalty and the Islanders managed to kill it off, despite the dangerous chances for the Lightning, but then Cal Clutterbuck took a tripping penalty against Kevin Shattenkirk and put the Isles right back on the kill. Again, the Bolts had loads of chances, but key shot blocks, a couple whiffs, and most of all, excellent goaltending from Varlamov kept the Lightning off the board in the second period. It was all Tampa Bay in the first half of the period.

Clutterbuck came out of the penalty box on a mission, throwing three consecutive hits on the forecheck in the Tampa Bay zone, shaking up a bit Mikhail Sergachev in the process. The kills and the physicality seemed to awaken the Islanders a little bit and they started to tilt the ice in their favor, including a chance for Clutterbuck off the far post on a clean look on a three-on-two.

Lee, in a rush to get onside, extended his leg across the blue line, going down on one knee to accomplish it. But he accidentally clipped Anthony Cirelli knee-on-knee in so doing, sending the young Lightning center tumbling down. He went off favoring his right leg but returned for the third period.

Interestingly enough, though, the Islanders drew a penalty in the same sequence. Tyler Johnson went off for a hook after weaving his stick in between and up Josh Bailey’s legs to get in on his hands from behind. The Islanders’ frequently inept power play actually had a good turn with an extra man—both units did, really. But Vasilevskiy made a big save or two and the Lightning defenders got a couple blocks down low, including Luke Schenn’s skate catching a Ryan Pulock one-timer.

By the time the period ended, the Islanders started to take control of the play and were able to penetrate the Tampa Bay zone with more regularity. That would carry over.

Third Period: Things Are Feeling Good

Now, it was the Islanders’ turn to own a period. They got going right away and really pushed the pace of the play. The Lightning out-shot the Islanders again, but purely on talent and a couple power plays, I’d say. The Islanders were the better team this period.

Credit to the Lightning, though. They clogged up the middle of the zone and made it extremely difficult to get anything through. They stacked the middle and pressured the points and made the Isles move the puck often. When they’re on, they’re winning the board battles, too. But I think that’s where the Islanders were doing better. They were also winning, to my eye at least, the neutral zone battle.

The Islanders had a few chances to take the lead (I’m sorry, I didn’t write anything down while this period was happening because I was on the edge of my seat) but they were stopped by Tampa Bay blockers or Vasilevskiy. On the other end, Toews took another puck-over-the-glass delay-of-game penalty, somehow, but the Isles killed it off.

And then, an eerily familiar feeling. As regulation time wound down in Game 5, Anthony Beauvillier high-sticked Mikhail Sergachev, drawing blood and a double-minor that carried into overtime. The Islanders managed to kill it all off and held off the Lightning until Eberle scored in double overtime. That’s hard to do once, especially against a team like Tampa Bay.

So when Andy Greene high-sticked Nikita Kucherov with about twenty seconds left in regulation, I swore that was it.

Overtime: So Close, But Not Close Enough

The Isles won the period’s opening face-off and Johnny Boychuk, out on the kill, fired a slapper from his own blue line right on Vasilevskiy. That would’ve been hysterical. But Vasilevskiy stopped it.

The Lightning have a lot of talent, so all of their power plays look dangerous. But this one didn’t feel as scary as it usually might. And in fact, while on the kill, Brock Nelson forced a turnover by Blake Coleman, I believe, and was in completely alone. He waited out Vasilevskiy before trying to forehand over the short-side shoulder of the Lightning netminder, but Vasilevskiy knocked it away.

Midway through overtime, the Islanders were gifted a power play when the Bolts accidentally put six men on. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much doing on it. Mathew Barzal was forced into turnovers three times in one sequence, though I don’t blame him for them so much as I praise the Lightning for them.

Not scoring on that power play proved to be fatal, as not long after it ended, the Lightning got a little bit of zone time. Barclay Goodrow had the puck behind the net and Cirelli, of course, sneaked away from Barzal to get open. He fired a shot past Varlamov that went off the post and rode the goal line without going in. But it rode all the way to Varlamov’s left skate, ticking off of it and just crossing over the goal line. Game and series.

The Lightning are the Eastern Conference Champions and going to the Stanley Cup Final. The Islanders, though, showed us something they, as a franchise, hadn’t done in way too long. Once again, what a run, and I’m so thankful for it.

Up Next

Well, who knows. It’s officially the off-season. The Islanders were one of the last three teams, and the third-last team to start their off-season. Weird to say that.

GM Lou Lamoriello is going to have to get creative this summer with the flat salary cap and all of Barzal, Pulock, and Toews needing new contracts. Some guys probably just played their last games as Islanders, which is sad. Because this collective group of players was so lovable and, now, will forever be associated with an Eastern Conference Final run.

But we needn’t think about that right now.

Right now, let’s just take in what we watched our team do. We’ve all waited a long time to see them go on a run like this. Yes, absolutely, it’s disappointing they weren’t able to win the Stanley Cup. But I’d never seen them get out of the second round before—hell, it took a long time to even get out of the first round—but to see how far this team came in only two years of the Lou and Trotz regime is exciting.

I don’t know what the 2020-21 NHL season will hold for our team. But I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for the 2019-20 New York Islanders.