For a grand total of about 25 minutes in Game 1 of their second round series against the New York Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning played a free-wheeling, up-tempo game that had the Islanders on their heels. The only problem? Hockey games are 60 minutes long.
After taking an early lead in the first period, the Lightning fell back into some bad habits, displaying the kind of inconsistent, uneven performance that has become too common this season in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders in Game 1 at . Over the course of the final 15 minutes of the first period and the entire second period, the Lightning were prone to turnovers and defensive breakdowns, constantly getting bottled up in the neutral zone while being unable to sustain much time in the offensive zone. And that time frame was all the Islanders needed to build up a lead and hang onto it despite the Lightning getting the better of play in the final period. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who was announced as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy earlier in the day, gave up four goals on 13 shots before being pulled for Andrei Vasilevskiy in the second period. On the other end, Thomas Greiss made 33 saves, including several crucial stops in the third period, as the Lightning outshot the Isles 17-5 in the final period and 36-22 for the game.
The game got off to a highly encouraging start for Tampa Bay, as Ondrej Palat put the Lightning up 1-0 just 3:05 into the game when Vlad Namestnikov forced a turnover in the Lightning’s zone and found Jonathan Drouin with a pass through the neutral zone. Drouin stopped, drawing a couple of Islanders players his way before finding Palat with a tremendous pass in the slot. Palat one-timed it past Greiss, and it looked like the Lightning were showing no rust from having nearly a week off. Soon after the goal, however, Erik Condra took a big hit from the Islanders’ Casey Cizikas, and he had to be helped off the ice with what appeared to be a concussion, as Condra looked very dazed. He would not return. New York had already started to find more jump to their game before this hit, and they carried play for the rest of the period, outshooting the Lightning 9-2 after the Palat goal.
They would even the game up 1-1 at the 5:44 mark when Travis Hamonic lobbed a shot on net from the right wing boards, finding its way past Bishop for his first goal of the playoffs, with Alan Quine and the red-hot John Tavares getting the assists. New York began dictating the flow of play and forcing the Bolts into some turnovers. Tampa Bay’s sloppiness would lead to a pair of goals from an unlikely source in forward Shane Prince, who scored twice within a span of two-and-a-half minutes late in the period to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. Both goals were the results of bad defensive breakdowns by the Lightning, who left Prince wide open in front of the net on the first goal, and then left him open from Bishop’s right for a one-timer on the second goal, which occurred with two seconds left in the period. Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson earned the helpers on both tallies. It was the first time Bishop had given up any goals in the opening period of a game in this year’s playoffs, and the first time he’d given up more than two in any playoff game since Game 2 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
The Lightning had an early power play chance in the second period, as Valtteri Filppula drew an interference penalty after threading a pass to Ryan Callahan, who was turned aside by Greiss. However, Tampa Bay couldn’t get anything going on the man-advantage and found themselves without a goal to show for it. At the 8:12 mark, Jonathan Marchessault was whistled for hooking, giving the Islanders a power play chance that they would take advantage of, as Tavares took a pass, skated down the left wing, and fired a shot over Bishop and into the net for this sixth goal of the playoffs giving the Isles a 4-1 lead at the 8:59 mark and bringing Bishop’s night to an early end. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen got the assists. Tampa Bay continued to struggle to maintain any sort of consistent pressure in New York’s zone, but finally started to get some chances late in the second period, most notably on a rebound shot by Palat that was kicked away by Greiss as the buzzer sounded to end the period.
Early in the third period, Matt Martin got a partial breakaway for the Islanders and hit the post, and it looked like the Lightning were just going to continue to struggle to get anything going the rest of the way. However, Tampa Bay showed some resolve, taking advantage of the Islanders’ willingness to sit back and protect their lead. With 12:19 left in the period, Nikita Kucherov scored his sixth goal of the playoffs when he one-timed a gorgeous pass from Matt Carle past Greiss to cut the deficit to 4-2. Hedman got the secondary assist, and the Lightning were back in business. Tampa Bay spent the rest of regulation swarming the Islanders’ zone, finally getting that sustained pressure on Greiss that they had been lacking earlier in the game. Kucherov would get denied on a wraparound chance, while a Hedman shot from the point was kicked aside by Greiss. However, the Lightning’s best chance of the period came when Brian Boyle had the puck in the corner and found Drouin open in the slot. However, Greiss was able to make the save, preserving the two-goal advantage. The Lightning got a power play with 4:40 left, and Filppula picked up his first point of the postseason when he scored just seconds after that man-advantage ended, knocking home a rebound of his own shot with 2:32 to go. That cut the Islanders’ lead to 4-3, as Alex Killorn and Jason Garrison picked up the helpers on Filppula’s goal. However, it was too little, too late, as Cal Clutterbuck would put the final nail in the coffin of this game when he scored an empty net goal with 54.8 seconds to play, giving the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the series.
Tampa Bay and New York will resume the series on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena, as the puck will drop for Game 2 at 3 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Shane Prince – Scored two goals, including one with two seconds left in the period, effectively putting the Lightning in catch-up mode for the duration of the game.
2nd Star: John Tavares – Scored his sixth goal of the playoffs and tallied his fifth assist of the postseason while leading all Islanders forwards in ice time at 20:36.
3rd Star: Thomas Greiss – The Islanders’ netminder continued his stellar postseason, making 33 saves, including multiple important stops in the third period as the Lightning were making a late comeback bid.
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