This team keeps getting better and better. Coming into a whole new challenge against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team we last played in September in the bubble, it could have gone very differently. Tampa’s got more fire power and less noticeable holes in their lineup than Pittsburgh or Boston, but the Isles have just kept trucking along, playing with more and more confidence every game, just as Barry Trotz said. They never looked scared going against Point and Kucherov and Stamkos and Hedman, and came in with a game plan and stuck to it. Even with all of that... I don’t know about you guys, but I was sweating my way through this game.
One goal games aren’t boring when it’s your team in it, where every shot can change the course of the game. I was stressed up until the clock hit zero. But I believe in this team, and Mat Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Semyon Varlamov led the way to give the Isles the win in Game 1.
Just eight seconds in, Matt Martin and David Savard mixed it up early, which eventually led to both Barclay Goodrow and Martin heading to the box for roughing.
Brock Nelson had a shot saved by Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Nick Leddy nearly got his rebound over to Anthony Beauvillier but the play was broken up by Tampa.
JG Pageau took advantage of a falling Anthony Cirelli, getting the puck and heading to the net, where Ryan McDonagh tripped him to break up that play and the Isles were on the power play. That PP was... not good, and Tampa had the more dangerous looks on the penalty kill.
Vasilevskiy made some great saves on Pageau and Kyle Palmieri, but then the Isles went to the power play again when Goodrow went to the box, again for roughing.
The second half of that PP was solid for the Isles, with some good looks on net.
Brayden Point had the scariest chance of the period, getting in alone on Varlamov but he shot high.
Palmieri had another chance, Varlamov made a big save on Alex Killorn, and the Isles closed out the period with some good looks offensively but neither team could break through.
Varlamov made a big save on Savard on a 3 on 2, and a Rutta shot hit Point in the hand.
Josh Bailey took advantage of a turnover and got in alone on Vasilevskiy, but hit the post on a backhand that otherwise had him beat. Bailey had another shot saved by Vasilevskiy, and Anthony Beauvillier had a good chance as well off a Point giveaway.
Varlamov came up huge, stopping shots on Yanni Gourde, Savard, Mikhail Sergachev, and Tyler Johnson.
Mat Barzal made a great move to get around Victor Hedman but his shot was saved.
But not too much later, Bailey made a fantastic stretch pass off a Steven Stamkos turnover and Barzal scored five hole on Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0.
Varlamov had to make soe big saves again on Gourde and Blake Coleman. Then, the Islanders would head to the PP again - Erik Cernak to the box for tripping Barzal. But again, Tampa would look more dangerous, with Varlamov stopping a Killorn short handed chance.
And then the makeup calls started, as Palmieri got called for interference on Cernak when he hit him with a little sneaky crosscheck. The Isles killed the first 36 seconds of it before the period ended, with Cal Clutterbuck making a huge block on Stamkos.
The Isles would kill the rest of the 1:24, and Barzal almost made it 2-0 following that.
Varlamov made another save on Killorn, Vasilevskiy made a save on Beauvillier, but a Ryan Pulock bomb from the point would hit Vasilevskiy and bounce in, making it 2-0 for the Islanders.
The Islanders began to clamp down with about 7:30 left, with Adam Pelech making a great defensive play on Ondrej Palat with 6:30ish left. Tampa Bay iced it with 4:00 left, Scott Mayfield made a good defensive play on Goodrow and then Tampa iced it again with 3:11 left, but eventually they were able to pull Vasilevskiy for the extra skater.
Varlamov made two big saves, the Islanders iced it with 1:51 left and Brock Nelson went to the box for high sticking after Kucherov sold the call. Point scored on that power play with :53 seconds left in the game, and Tampa made that last minute-ish scary, but the Islanders held on for a 2-1 win on the road.
- The Islanders dominated this game for all but the last two minutes. What an effort coming in against a team that’s once again the Stanley Cup favorite. If we play every game like this, and maybe get some help from our special teams, I really like our chances. And getting at minimum a road split out of Tampa means that home ice advantage shifts to the Coliseum.
- Nick Leddy has struggled at times this postseason, but had a really good game today. That’s a big part of why we looked good, with two defensive pairs playing at their best and jumping into the play, we can compete with anyone. Would love to see that continue for Leddy.
- Last season, Tampa was a lot for us, but the guy who killed us all series was Victor Hedman. Hedman wasn’t very noticeable in this game, and Barzal got around him for a great chance. If the Isles can take advantage of that, look out.
Next, the Islanders will do this all again on Tuesday in Tampa. Jon Cooper’s a great coach and undoubtedly will have adjustments to get the Lightning clicking again. But Barry Trotz and the Islanders will have even more confidence as they look for revenge against the team that knocked them out last year.