The New York Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum to host the Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS) feeling good about splitting the first two games of the best-of-7 series on the road and how they match up with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“Obviously, it’s a tough matchup and it’s going to be a long series, but we like where our game is at,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said Wednesday. “A couple mistakes here and there that we know we can clean up, but I think we like the way we’re playing. We like the structure of our game and we’re just going to try to keep building as the series goes on.”
But the Islanders also know they need to clean up some of the mistakes they made in a 4-2 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday if they are going to dethrone the Lightning. After taking away Tampa Bay’s rush game in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 on Sunday, New York wasn’t nearly as good with its structure in Game 2. The Lightning took advantage to create several rush chances with their speed, including one on Ondrej Palat‘s goal that gave them a 2-1 lead at 13:15 of the second period.
The Islanders also committed defensive zone turnovers that led directly to two goals against. It gave the Lightning’s power play, which is at 39.5 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, five opportunities. Tampa Bay converted on the fourth one.
“I think there was a couple of little breakdowns that led to goals that we normally don’t give up like that,” Pulock said. “But sometimes that’s going to happen, and you’ve just got to move on from that and learn from that and go forward.”
Though Islanders coach Barry Trotz talks often about needing at least three of their four forward lines going to be able to win, he said he thought they had only two lines that played well in Game 2. The line of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey was on the ice for two of the Lightning’s three even-strength goals Tuesday and the line of Kyle Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Travis Zajac had some shifts when it was trapped in the defensive zone for long stretches.
Zajac took two penalties in the defensive zone, including one that led to defenseman Victor Hedman‘s power-play goal that increased the Lightning’s lead to 4-1 at 9:17 of the third period.
“You’re going to only be able to limit their team to a certain amount, but if you just get to your game and stick to your game and you have to trust your game, you’re going to win more than you’re going to lose,” Trotz said. “That’s how we’ve operated since the last couple years anyways. So get to our game, stick to our game and usually we get a good outcome.”
The Islanders are in a familiar spot after splitting the first two games on the road with the next two at home. They were also tied 1-1 after two games in the first two rounds against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins and won each of those series in six games.
But New York lost Game 3 at home in each series. That’s something they’d like to change Thursday.
“There’s no magic formula to do that,” Trotz said. “I think we’ve approached every game the same way. It’s just happenstance. We’ve dug in. We understand the importance of our home ice, our building. Their team, they’re going to come. We’ve got to respond. We lost a game last night and it’s our turn to respond.”