The New York Islanders expected the Tampa Bay Lightning to raise their level in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Tuesday, and that’s exactly what the defending Stanley Cup champions did.
But the Islanders couldn’t respond in kind in a sloppy effort in a 4-2 loss at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
So the best-of-7 series is tied with Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum in New York on Thursday.
“I don’t think we expected it to be easy,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said. “They’re a good team up front, back end and goaltending. So we got a win in Game 1, which was nice. We knew they were going to come hard. We wanted to raise our game.”
After controlling play for much of a 2-1 win in Game 1 on Sunday, the Islanders weren’t as crisp Tuesday. Tampa Bay caused some of that by stepping up its physical play and pressuring New York into mistakes.
The Islanders committed defensive-zone turnovers that led directly to two goals. Brayden Point scored the first to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead at 8:58 of the first period.
New York defenseman Adam Pelech‘s errant pass from behind the net intended for Anthony Beauvillier was intercepted by Tampa Bay defenseman David Savard at the right point. Savard passed the puck behind the net to Nikita Kucherov, who quickly fed Point in front.
Jan Rutta‘s goal 2:16 into the third period that increased the Lightning lead to 3-1 came after a similar turnover. Beauvillier wasn’t able to handle Pelech’s pass up the left-wing boards and Blake Coleman intercepted to keep the puck in at the blue line. Within seconds, Barclay Goodrow passed to Rutta for a slap shot from the right point that beat goalie Semyon Varlamov into the top left corner of the net.
“We’ve got to execute a little bit better and then you’ve got to battle that out,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “The third goal was a prime example of that. That was just too loose on the play and not enough execution and not enough a little bit of everything. Your exits, you’ve got to have those details and we didn’t have it.”
The Islanders were also undisciplined, giving the Lightning five power plays after they had two in Game 1. That’s asking for trouble with Tampa Bay scoring at 39.5 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders killed the first three before Victor Hedman scored on the fourth to increase the Lightning lead to 4-1 at 9:17 of the third.
“We talked about staying out of the box,” Nelson said. “Five (power plays) is probably too many. We already touched on it. They’ve got a lot of skill over there, and weapons, so you give them five looks on the power play they’re going to get some good looks. And you give them five, you’re going to have to rely on your goaltender making some big saves, getting a lot of blocks.”
New York did some good things too. Nelson’s power-play goal tied it 1-1 at 13:30 of the first period. And after Ondrej Palat scored to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead at 13:15 of the second period, Beauvillier nearly retied the game on a chance in front with seven seconds remaining in the period. But goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy kicked out his left pad to make the save and keep the Lightning ahead into the third period, when the Islanders’ mistakes caught up to them.
“The second goal, that one hurt quite a bit because now if they get the third one there’s a little bit more separation,” Trotz said. “And, obviously, you guys know there was too many men on the ice. They had seven guys, so disappointed at that. But we tried to battle through that.
“I thought we had a little push after that, and then, obviously, the third goal put us in a little bit of a bigger hole. So from my standpoint, we can be a lot better and we will be.”
The Islanders head home tied in the series after opening on the road. That’s the same position they were in after two games in the first two rounds against the Pittsburgh Penguins and against the Boston Bruins and they went on to win each of those series in six games.
“You want to win both, but a split on the road is how we started each series so far,” Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “So we’re excited to get back to our house, to the ‘Coli’ where we know our fans will be loud and we’ll have that momentum with us.”