The Islanders won Game 4 over the Lightning Saturday night by a 3-2 score, tying up their Stanley Cup Semifinal series at 2-2.
Tonight’s win means there will be at least one more game at Nassau Coliseum.
The Isles took the ice with the same lineup they used in Game 3, but Barry Trotz made a few adjustments in the first period of Game 4. A few shifts into the game, he switched Kyle Palmieri and Leo Komarov, giving Mathew Barzal an offensively capable player on his left wing. Obviously, Trotz reads Lighthouse Hockey.
Trotz also activated the Isles’ defensemen in the offensive zone, having them pinch in aggressively in an attempt to keep pucks in and extend offensive zone time. Most of the offensive pressure the Islanders managed in the first period came off these kinds of pinches.
Most of the offensive pressure in the period, however, came from the Lightning. They outshot the Isles 11-4 in the first 20 minutes (and 21-11 on attempts), but Semyon Varlamov was up to the task, making all 11 saves, several of which came from around the slot.
But the gap in quality chances wasn’t as wide, with the Isles hitting the post twice in a six-minute span. The first came off Palmieri’s stick on a wrist shot high, blocker-side. The second was off a rebound Barzal shot past Vasilevskiy that hit the inside of the post and bounced across the crease, staying out of the net.
Tampa had their only power play of the night in the opening period, but the best scoring chance on that power play came from the shorthanded Islanders. Uncle Leo made a strong play to intercept the puck in the neutral zone and skate in on a breakaway. Leo managed to get a shot off on his breakaway, but Vasilevskiy turned it aside with a great blocker save.
The score was 0-0 heading into the second period. The Islanders haven’t entered the first intermission with a lead in any of their games this postseason, which is as strange as it is irrelevant.
Tampa kept the pressure on in the first five minutes of the middle frame. Their best chance came just under two minutes in. Scott Mayfield got caught up in the neutral zone, resulting in a two-on-one rush for the Lightning’s top two forwards. Nikita Kucherov slickly out-waited a diving Nick Leddy and slid a pass over to Point, but Varlamov made a great pad save to keep Tampa off the board.
The Islanders finally broke through just over five minutes into the period. We’ve been waiting for the Bailey-Beauvillier-Nelson line to contribute this series, as they’d been the Isles’ best line in the first two rounds. All three forwards made great plays on the Islanders’ first goal.
Upon crossing the blue line, Beauvillier hit Nelson with a little bank-pass off the boards. Nelson bought some time before sending a spin-around, backhand area pass to Josh Bailey, who made one move to his left before sniping it high, glove-side past Vasilevskiy. It was a beautiful play all around, capped off by a beauty of a snipe from no. 12.
Around ten minutes later, the Isles went up 2-0 when Barzal pounced on a Cal Clutterbuck rebound and deposited it into the open net. The Isles were able to sustain pressure and score this goal thanks in part to Point losing his stick in the defensive zone. Poor guy, nothing’s been going his way lately.
An inevitable make-up call on Erik Cernak handed the Isles their first power play with 5:27 remaining in the second period. The Isles spent almost the entire two minutes in Tampa’s zone, and though they failed to score on their chances, they were able to keep momentum when play returned to even strength.
The Islanders maintained pressure in the offensive zone and, with two minutes left in the period, Matt Martin jumped on a rebound and roofed a backhand to give the Isles a 3-0 lead. Tampa challenged the goal, believing the Isles were offside when they entered the zone (which was nearly a full minute before the goal was scored). The challenge failed and the goal was upheld.
The third goal wouldn’t have happened without a great pinch by Adam Pelech around 30 seconds earlier. This was part of a concerted effort to pinch in all night by Isles defensemen. It was a great adjustment by Trotz and his coaching staff.
The Islanders held a 3-0 lead heading into the final period.
Less than four minutes in, Tampa cut the Isles’ lead to two goals when Point skated in and sniped a ridiculous wrister high, glove-side past Varlamov. It was Point’s seventh straight playoff game with a goal. The last player to do that was noted jackass Claude Lemieux back in 1997.
Three minutes later, with 13:17 remaining, Tampa struck again. This time, Tyler Johnson cut into the slot (thanks to an Isles’ defensive breakdown) and roofed one past Varlamov to cut the Isles lead to just one goal.
This was all following a similar pattern to Game 5 against Boston in the last round. So Barry Trotz, as he did in that game after seeing his team’s three-goal lead reduced to a one-goal lead, called a time out to settle the boys down. And just as they did against Boston in Game 5, the Isles settled down the rest of the way.
Still, Tampa would have two glorious chances to tie the game from that point on.
With 5:40 remaining, Kucherov took a pass from Ondrej Palat in the slot and fired it on goal, but Varlamov made a great glove save.
Presumably, the Islanders have four guys back in the slot to prevent a pass like this from getting through. But it was a great pass by Palat off a shot-fake that seemed to fool everyone except, thankfully, Varlamov.
Tampa’s final chance came in the game’s closing seconds. Kucherov one-touched a pass out to Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who moved in, spun around a diving Brock Nelson, and sent a backhand shot past a way-up-out-of-his-net Varlamov. The puck seemed destined to go in, but Ryan Pulock slid through the crease to make the save of his life just before time expired.
What an amazing, spectacular, miraculous, unforgettable, game-saving play by Pulock.
That was one hell of a play by McDonagh to get the shot off, and an even better one by Pulock to stop it.
This is now a best-of-three series. Game 5 is Monday night in Florida.