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Late goal by Nelson helps Isles cut Lightning’s series lead to 2-1

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

Going into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders both missed key players following Game 2. Lightning center Brayden Point did not suit up tonight after he left Game 2 with an injury and did not return, while winger Alex Killorn was handed a one-game suspension for boarding Isles forward Brock Nelson. On the other side, New York’s Casey Cizikas was deemed unfit to play and also did not suit up.

Heading into this pivotal Game 3, the question is what kind of a game would we see? Would it be a run-and-gun game that favored the Lightning in Game 1, or a methodical, Islander-type game like we saw in Game 2? The answer was actually a game that featured the two teams combining for over 70 shots on goal and plenty of solid scoring opportunities. In a highly eventful contest, it would be Nelson bouncing back from his hit at the hands of Killorn and keeping the Islanders in this series.

Nelson’s goal with 3:25 left in the third period turned out to be the game-winner as the Islanders prevailed 5-3 in Game 3, cutting the Lightning’s lead in the series to 2-1. Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 of 37 shots for the win, while Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss, turning aside 31 of 35 shots. This game was featured plenty of hits, some brewing bad blood, lots of shot attempts and scoring chances from both teams, and some sloppy mistakes that turned out to be costly.

High-event hockey on display in the first period

During the opening 20 minutes, the Lightning and Islanders combined for 51 shot attempts, with the Isles holding a 16-14 edge in shots that ended up on net. With Point out of the lineup due to injury, Anthony Cirelli moved up to the top line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. That trio didn’t miss a beat early on. Tampa Bay kept up the pressure with some extended offensive zone time while creating a few good scoring chances. An interesting observation about this period was how it wasn’t a back-and-forth affair resembling a ping pong match despite what the shot totals might suggest. While the Bolts kept up the pressure at times, the Islanders were also able to build up time in the offensive zone and create opportunities of their own. Both Vasilevskiy and Varlamov were outstanding in the opening 20 minutes.

New York took a 1-0 lead with 7:02 to go in the period off of a bizarre sequence. With the Isles controlling play in the Tampa Bay zone, Jean-Gabriel Pageau nearly put one past Vasilevskiy, but was denied in close. However, during the play, Vasilevskiy’s right pad came loose. Although the Lightning netminder wanted a stoppage, the officials didn’t give it to him, as an equipment malfunction does not constitute a stoppage in play unless it involves the mask. With Vasilevskiy slightly losing focus and the Lightning standing around, Cal Clutterbuck took advantage. Pouncing on a loose puck after Ryan Pulock’s shot was blocked, Clutterback fired it home to put the Isles ahead. The play was eerily reminiscent of the 2018 second round series between Tampa Bay and Boston when Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask lost a skate blade, leading to a Lightning goal.

New York continues to push, but the Lightning push back

Mathew Barzal nearly extended the Islanders’ lead to 2-0 with a breakaway opportunity, but Vasilevskiy waited him out and made the save. New York began tilting the ice in their favor, but the Lightning soon regained momentum in their favor with 3:29 left in the period. Yanni Gourde faked a shot before sliding a beautiful pass to Mikhail Sergachev. Cutting to the net, Sergachev went from his forehand to his backhand before roofing a backhander past Varlamov for his second goal of the playoffs.

The Isles build a lead in the second

In the early minutes of the second period, Tampa Bay tested Varlamov multiple times, but the Islanders’ goaltender was more than up to the task. Eventually, New York turned the tide, drawing the first power play of the night on a slashing call to Mitchell Stephens. While the Isles didn’t score on the power play, it helped them build momentum and eventually led to them taking a 2-1 lead. The Lightning failed to clear the puck out of their zone and the Islanders kept it in at the point. Barzal worked the puck to Adam Pelech, who completed a give-and-go with Pageau. Pelech zipped a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first career playoff goal with 8:50 left on the clock.

Exactly two minutes later, New York extended their lead to 3-1 thanks to a great individual effort from Nelson. Nelson patiently kept the puck and skated around the Lightning net, drawing the attention of Ryan McDonagh. Kevin Shattenkirk approached Nelson to try to cut off the pass, but left Anthony Beauvillier open in the process. Beauvillier made no mistake, squeaking a shot past Vasilevskiy to put the Isles up by two. Despite the 3-1 deficit, the Lightning’s top line came to life and began putting together a shift similar to the spectacular effort they put forth in the opening period. The Bolts went into the intermission down by two, but showed signs of life towards the end of the period.

The Lightning pull off a rally and make it a game

Tampa Bay began to chip away 2:32 into the final period after going on a power play. Some extremely smooth puck movement led to Palat cashing in for his seventh goal of the postseason. Victor Hedman worked the puck to Sergachev, who faked a shot and dished it to Kucherov in the right circle. Kucherov put the puck on net, where Palat redirected it to cut the Isles lead to 3-2.

Ten minutes later, Tyler Johnson deflected a long point shot from Erik Cernak past Varlamov, tying the game 3-3. The officials decided to take a second look via video review to see if Johnson touched the puck with a high stick. However, the officials determined it was a good goal after further review. Johnson’s goal was his fourth of the playoffs, but first since Game 5 of the first round against Columbus.

Nelson seals it for New York

Unfortunately for the Lightning, the game came down to one bad turnover with just over three minutes to go. Ryan McDonagh sent an ill-fated pass to Barclay Goodrow, who was covered at the Lightning blue line, resulting in a turnover. The play was a mistake we’re used to seeing from the usually reliable McDonagh. The Islanders kept the puck in the Tampa Bay zone, with Beauvillier finding Nelson in the right circle. Nelson’s shot found the back of the net and the Isles went up 4-3 with 3:25 left.

Cirelli nearly tied it up shortly after following a beautiful feed from Kucherov, but Varlamov came up huge. In the dying seconds of the game, things turned nasty while Pageau scored an empty net goal with 36 seconds to go. Kucherov took a whack at Pageau’s leg after he had been hounding him down the ice to try and prevent the goal, sparking a brawl.

Game 4 is on Sunday at 3 pm on NBC.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Brock Nelson – Scored the game-winning goal and added an assist.

2nd Star: Mikhail Sergachev – One goal and one assist.

3rd Star: Anthony Beauvillier – One goal and one assist.

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