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Nassau Coliseum quieted as Lightning take 2-1 series lead over Islanders

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

On the heels of a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of their NHL semifinal series with the New York Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they’d have a daunting task ahead of them with a raucous and hostile crowd awaiting them in Nassau Coliseum for Games 3 and 4. Despite the task ahead of them, the Lightning have proven to be a mature team time and time again during this postseason, able to close things out when the chips are down, particularly on the road.

Thursday’s game proved to be no exception, as the Lightning followed up an impressive Game 2 win with a crucial Game 3 victory that quieted down the rowdy fans at Nassau Coliseum. Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point tallied the goals, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 28 shots, and the Lightning weathered several surges from the Islanders over the final 30 minutes before emerging with a 2-1 win, putting Tampa Bay up 2-1 in the series.

The Bolts have now won four in a row away from home in this postseason. Overall, they’re 6-1 away from Amalie Arena in the playoffs. While last year’s postseason took place in the bubble, they were also 9-1 as the designated road team in the 2020 playoffs.

Semyon Varlamov turned aside 23 of 25 Lightning shots and was very good throughout this game. However, like so many goaltenders going against Vasilevskiy in the playoffs this year and last year, “very good” usually isn’t good enough.

Following a conservative start, both teams began generating chances

The opening 20 minutes of this game proved to be a tightly-contested and evenly-matched affair. Both the Lightning and Islanders created solid scoring chances. On top of that, each team played a physical game while staying away from the post-whistle shenanigans that became commonplace in Game 2. After a conservative first five minutes in front of a loud and energetic Nassau Coliseum crowd, both teams began to generate chances after the Lightning didn’t create much offensive zone puck possession time early on.

Erik Cernak found himself with a good look from the high slot, but Varlamov denied his chance. Jean-Gabriel Pageau later found Kyle Palmieri in front of the Lightning goal with a brilliant pass from behind the net, but Vasilevskiy slammed the door shut. Steven Stamkos nearly gave the Bolts the lead, but he fanned on a rebound attempt from the high slot.

Gourde’s goal puts the Bolts up 1-0 thanks to a relentless effort by Blake Coleman

Tampa Bay finally got on the board at the 10:05 thanks to Gourde’s first goal in 10 games. Cernak sprung Coleman on a rush down the left wing with a nice breakout pass. Coleman got off a shot that Varlmaov stopped, but Coleman followed up on the rebound and chipped the puck in front, where it bounced off an Islander to Gourde, who slammed it into the net for this third of the postseason.

The Isles began pushing back and generated a few more chances of their own, including a deflection by Casey Cizikas that Vasilevskiy stopped. Nikita Kucherov nearly made it 2-0 off a deflection of a Victor Hedman shot, but the puck barely missed the net wide right. The Lightning took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission while holding a 9-7 shot advantage despite the Islanders holding the edge in shots attempts at 17-15. Despite having a slight disadvantage in shot attempts and scoring chances, the Lightning held a distinct advantage in high-danger opportunities.

The second period proves to be two completely different stories

During the opening nine minutes of the second period, the Lightning asserted control over this game, playing with structure, blocking shots, and generally keeping the Islanders from creating opportunities. However, the Lightning also didn’t generate much during this time, as their best chance came off a rush by Ross Colton down the left wing that Varlamov kept out of the net.

Despite being bottled up, the Islanders eventually stayed with it and began tilting the ice in their favor, led by their fourth line of Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck, as well as Mathew Barzal. Barzal nearly tied it up, but he couldn’t quite put it home despite having Vasilevskiy in a vulnerable position. Eventually, the Islanders’ swarming play drew the first power play of the night on a Mikhail Sergachev roughing penalty. Despite only putting one shot on goal with the man-advantage, New York had momentum completely in their favor.

Clutterbuck sends Nassau into a frenzy, but Point delivers in response

An Islanders dump-in late in the period took a strange bounce off the end boards and landed directly behind the Bolts’ net. New York’s fourth line went to work, with Martin putting a shot on net that Vasilevskiy stopped. Despite the save, the rebound ended up in front of the crease, leading to a wild scramble. Cernak tried to put the puck under Vasilevskiy, but Clutterbuck ended up jamming it home to tie the game 1-1 with 2:59 to go, causing the crowd at Nassau Coliseum to erupt.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, Adam Pelech took an ill-advised interference penalty on Kucherov just 37 seconds after Clutterbuck’s goal. While the Lightning failed to cash in on the ensuing power play, they kept the pressure up and a certain guy known for clutch playoff moments delivered again.

With 17.4 seconds left in the period, Point swiped at the puck as he was being taken to the ice, beating Varlamov for his 11th goal of the playoffs and a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead. The goal marked the sixth straight playoff game in which Point has found the back of the net, a Lightning postseason record. Point’s goal streak is quite the rare feat in NHL postseason history.

The Lightning shut the door despite a third period push from New York

For the third straight period, both teams failed to generate much in the way of offense in the opening few minutes of the period. Travis Zajac broke that stalemate about four-and-a-half minutes in with a tremendous chance from the left circle that Vasilevskiy denied.

In fact, the shots were few and far between in the third stanza after each team recorded 20 shots through 40 minutes of play. Tampa Bay’s didn’t record their first shot on goal until there was about 10-and-a-half minutes to go when Steven Stamkos put one off the mask of Varlamov.

While the shots on goal totals weren’t overwhelming in the Islanders’ favor, the scoring chances were, as they kept up the pressure on the Lightning for much of the final period. Vasilevskiy kept the Islanders off the scoreboard over that time, making a few timely saves when needed. The Lightning did manage a couple of late opportunities from Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh, but couldn’t cash in. With 1:50 to go, New York pulled Varlamov for an extra skater, but failed to muster a shot on goal as the Lightning clamped down defensively when it mattered the most, sending the home crowd disappointed.

These two teams return to action for Game 4 on Saturday with an 8 pm puck drop from Nassau Coliseum. The game can be seen nationally on the USA Network.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 27 of 28 shots

2nd Star: Brayden Point – Scored the game-winning goal late in the second period

3rd Star: Cal Clutterbuck – Tallied the Islanders’ only goal

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