Entering Game 4 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders there were a plethora of questions. Lightning were up two games to one but would Brayden Point play? Is Andrei Vasilevskiy ready for a desperate Islander team to pummel him with shots? How many fights would we see? What would Barry Trotz have up his sleeve?
The answers would take some time to show themselves. Ultimately, despite scoring the first goal of the game, the Islanders could not keep up with the Lightning. The 4 – 1 win put Lightning up three games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals. Safe to say that the Islanders backs are against the wall. The rest of this series is a must win for them now and the Lightning are one win from going to the Stanley Cup Final.
Slow and Steady Lightning Wins the Race
As the game began, the Lightning speed had the Islanders playing a bit on their heels. Maybe it was the fact that Point was in the lineup and skating his usual speed. The work by the Yanni Gourde line kept the New Yorkers in their zone most of the first five to seven minutes of the first period. The persistence of the Lightning in all three zones was reminiscent of Game 1. That 8 – 2 drubbing of the Isles saw the same kind of dogged fore checking from Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Game 4 began to take that same tone but at a slower pace.
At 8:13 of the first, Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech was called for a tripping minor on Brayden Point. This could be the chance the Lightning were looking for to open the scoring. It was not to be as their power play units could only muster one shot with the man advantage. On the game went. The period ended the way it began, tied at zero. The Lightning did have an 11 to 5 shot advantage.
The frustration on the part of the Islanders became apparent as the period came to a close. Two seconds after the horn sounded ending the period, Matt Martin took a slap shot at Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was an easy save but Kevin Shattenkirk took exception and confronted Martin in no uncertain terms. This led to a big scrum behind the Lightning net. The biggest participants were Gourde and Cal Clutterbuck.
So, to start the middle frame, Martin was in the penalty box for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Whistled for that shot on Vasilevskiy after the horn ended the first period. Gourde and Clutterbuck also started the second in the box for the offsetting roughing calls for their standoff. The Lightning doubled their shot total from their first power play for a total of two shots but again failed to score. Still no score in the game as we headed to the halfway point of the game.
At 11:27 Islanders forward, Brock Nelson got the game’s first goal. After Vasilevskiy was rushed into a giveaway by Anthony Beauvillier, Nelson had the puck in the high slot. As he created some space to Vasilevskiy’s right, he fired a snap shot over the glove hand of the Tampa goalie. The celebration on the New York bench did not last long. After the ensuing face off, New York chipped the puck into the Lightning zone. Vasilevskiy went behind the net and passed the puck to Gourde who flipped the puck towards the Islanders zone. In a race with Islanders Devon Toews, Coleman got to the puck first. Then, with a quick forehand backhand move, scored to give the Lightning an immediate answer to the Islanders goal. The New York lead lasted a grand total of 15 seconds.
If that wasn’t enough, 12 seconds later, the Lightning took the lead. Their top line of Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat went to work. Weaving and passing to each other in the neutral zone and into the Islanders zone. Kucherov to Point on the wing, back to Kucherov in the middle, who backhands a no look pass to Palat who scores. Lightning go up 2 – 1 and 27 seconds earlier, New York was celebrating scoring the game’s first goal.
The Third is the Charm
Heading into the third period, the Lightning were hanging on to a one goal lead. Upon closer look, the game was even closer than that. Other than the 27 seconds in which both teams scored the three goals, it’s been a 0 – 0 game. So, for 39:33 of the first 40 minutes, these two combatants were dead even.
Then Tampa’s top three of Point, Kucherov and Palat took over. You know we’ve heard good things come in three. Kucherov entered the Islanders zone to the left of Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov. Dangling a bit, he spots Palat racing down the left who looks as if he’s ready to fire a rocket towards Varlamov. Point is streaking in the middle and at the last second Palat slid the puck to a wide open Point in front of the net. Now the Lightning are up 3 – 1.
Give credit to the Islanders, there was no quit in them. They worked hard to get shots on the net. You could sense that they knew they needed to score and get back in this game. About three minutes after Point’s goal, Palat was called for hooking and the penalty kill was called on to kill the team’s third penalty. They answered this bell. Allowing three shots, the penalty kill units ended the game a perfect 3 for 3 with a man down. Down two goals, the Islanders pulled their goalie with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game. It was not to be. Pat Maroon scored an empty netter to give the Lightning the three goal lead it would keep, 4 – 1.
What’s on Tap?
Prior to the empty net goal by Maroon, Point took a hit behind the Islanders goal. He stayed on the ice a bit and gingerly made he way back to the Lightning bench. This was about halfway through the final period. We didn’t see him back on the ice the rest of the game. He was seen skating to congratulate Vasilevskiy after the final horn. We’ll keep our eyes on that for Game 5 happens Tuesday night at 8:00 Eastern Time. Lightning are indeed one win away from punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. The job at hand will be tough. Nothing more dangerous in the postseason than a team in a must win situation. You can be sure the Islanders will come out Tuesday fired up. My guess here is that the Lightning will be prepared.
Three Stars of the Game
- Brayden Point – Goal and an assist.
- Ondrej Palat – Goal and an assist.
- Nikita Kucherov – Two assists
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