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Game 3 Recap: Islanders lose mirror match, drop 2-1 decision to Trotz-ian Tampa

A familiar sight, just in the wrong colors.

NHL: JUN 17 Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals - Lightning at Islanders
Offense or defense? Who can truly say?
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are a few qualified phrases in sports that we’re all used to. “Ensuing kick off.” “Intentional walk.” “Commanding lead.”

Being up 2-1 in a series isn’t a “commanding lead,” but the Islanders are down after taking a huge dose of their own medicine from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Isles’ Game 3 loss at Nassau Coliseum should have felt pretty familiar; the crowd was loud, the slot was clogged and the forechecking was ferocious.

Oh, and the Islanders lost, which they have done in every Game 3 this post-season.

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

First Period: Measured but down early.

The Islanders came out with good jump and took an early lead in shots. Kyle Palmieri had a chance in the slot off a behind-the-net pass from J-G Pageau, who was in the lineup after an injury scare in Game 2, that was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning then started to pile up shots and about halfway through, Yanni Gourde scored from a tough angle. Blake Coleman’s initial shot was blocked by Noah Dobson, but the rebound skated across the crease, past Nick Leddy and Semyon Varlamov and right to Gourde.

The home club sagged for a little after that, allowing Tampa Bay to skate through the neutral zone pretty easily. A Nikita Kucherov tip in front barely missed the far corner of the net. The Islanders started to turn it on late, with good shifts from the fourth line and top unit, including a Jordan Eberle/Mat Barzal 2-on-1 that was blocked by a defender.

No penalties were taken despite a couple of Lightning trying to scrum up after whistles. It wasn’t a bad period for the Islanders at all, but gaining meaningful offensive zone time was an issue, as was Tampa’s slicing through the neutral zone and high danger defense.

Second Period: Tie Game! Until it wasn’t.

The first 10 minutes were more of the same; the Lightning gave the Islanders nothing from the slot and blocked any shots from distance. At around the 10:00 mark, a fourth line shift in the Tampa zone sparked the Islanders, who started forechecking and pressuring the Lightning, particularly around the crease. A quality shift from the top line ended with Barzal barely missing an open net over a sprawling Vasilevskiy. A power play, thanks to a Mikhail Sergachev roughing call, also saw the Islanders gets some good pressure, but no goal.

After another good third line shift, it was the fourth that was on the ice for equalizer. With Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck crashing the net, Lightning defender Erik Cernak accidentally swept the puck through his own goalie’s five hole. Whatever. The Islanders (and Clutterbuck, who got credit for it) will take it.

The good times were short-lived, though. Barely a minute after tying the game, the Islanders were given their first penalty when Adam Pelech interfered with Kucherov away from the puck. Soft? Maybe. But these are the NHL playoffs, where the rules are made up and the penalties don’t matter.

The Islanders did a good job of killing the penalty against a constantly collapsing Tampa attack. But as the penalty expired, Brayden Point swept the puck towards the net as he was falling after being checked by Cizikas. The puck slid past Varlamov with Anthony Cirelli (and Greene) crowding his crease.

The Islanders didn’t challenge and the Lightning entered the second intermission with a 2-1 lead. Again, not a bad period for the Islanders. Just not enough.

Third Period: You can have some chances. As a treat.

Again, the Islanders had the jump and the shots and the zone time. But they came away with no goals to show for it.

It’s rarely a good sign when the best chances in a period came from Andy Greene and Leo Komarov (twice!) who received passes from Palmieri, Barzal or Eberle near the crease. Barzal had a couple of unscreened shots off the rush, and he Eberle and Palmieri took a few turns together late. Even the fourth like got a shot in as Matt Martin took an odd angle shot that was blocked away. In all cases, Vasilevskiy was there and the Lightning defenders worked hard to clear the puck out of danger. All that zone time only added up to just eight shots on goal for the Islanders, and none from high danger.

Pulling Varlamov didn’t help, as the Lightning increased their pressure and kept the Islanders from cleanly breaking out.

It definitely felt like the fastest period of the postseason. I blinked, and five minutes had disappeared off the clock. Maybe if the Islanders had five more minutes, they would have scored. But the way the Lightning were locked in, I doubt it.

Three Thoughts for Game 3

  • Give the Lightning credit; the played the Islanders exactly the way the Isles play everyone else. They clogged the slot, forechecked like crazy and kept the traffic in front of Vasilevskiy to a minimum. They were physical without taking a ton of penalties. They blocked 21 Islanders shots. But remember: it’s only “boring” when the Islanders do it.
  • The Islanders weren’t bad, they just didn’t cash in on whatever chances they had. Natural Stat Trick has ES HDCF as 14-6 Islanders and SOG as 27-24 Islanders, but that might not be accurate. In any event, each line had its moments, especially the first and third lines. The Nelson-Beauvillier-Bailey line was perhaps the quietest. Barzal and Eberle had a lot of jump but couldn’t break through. Does that mean Oliver Wahlstrom, who’s now healthy, should be inserted into the lineup for Game 4?
  • The crowd was full-throated and full of celebrities, including Ralph Macchio with Jimmy Fallon, and half the New York Jets. And unsurprisingly, the Lightning could not care less.

Game 4 is Saturday night. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but it’s potentially the final game at Nassau Coliseum.