In retrospect, we probably should have seen this one coming.
It had been a while since the New York Islanders got blown out. They have been unable to win in Tampa for the last four years, save for Game 1 in 2021. The Tampa Bay Lightning, while mediocre on the road, have been an unreal team at home this season. And they entered the night with a chance to clinch something: a playoff berth. So of course Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to pitch a shutout.
The Islanders didn’t play too terribly to start. They fell behind 1-0 late in the first period because Mikhail Sergachev’s bounced off Alexander Romanov, but otherwise played the Bolts evenly in the opening frame.
However, in the second period, the game came unraveled. Tanner Jeannot scored in the first couple of minutes, his first since the Lightning paid nearly an entire draft to acquire him. (Should have seen that one coming, too.) Nikita Kucherov never went into his own zone on an Islander dump-in and got lost behind Noah Dobson and Adam Pelech when Brayden Point sent him on a breakaway. And then Ilya Sorokin’s night ended—not because he was bad but because his team needed a jolt—when a centering pass ticked off the skate of Steven Stamkos, because of course they needed the break there. We had to hold our breath when diarrhea stain Corey Perry head-locked Romanov to the ice, forcing him to leave the game, but Romanov fortunately returned for the final frame.
The third period was largely academic, although lawyer-coach Jon Cooper rolled out his top power play unit late in the third period so Point could get one goal closer to 50. Semyon Varlamov was pretty good besides that goal. Of note to Lightning fans, Sergachev collided with J-G Pageau and appeared to suffer a leg injury; he left and did not return.
5-0 was the final. The Lightning clinched a playoff spot and a first-round rematch against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders remain at 87 points, two ahead of the Florida Panthers (even in games played), who jumped the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final playoff spot with their whipping of the Columbus Blue Jackets, combined with the Pens giving up David Pastrnak’s hat trick goal with 2:26 to play to lose in regulation. The Isles are three points ahead of Pittsburgh, who has a game in hand.
Tomorrow’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes just became a bit more important. The ‘Canes shut out the Montreal Canadiens tonight in Quebec, so they’ll also be on a back-to-back and will have to travel further than the Isles. It’s a 6:00 p.m. start, and the Islanders will need to be ready for this game, a potential preview of their first-round series—if they get there.
I think we all would have taken two points from this back-to-back. Burn tonight’s tape and get them tomorrow.