There was no secret to the New York Islanders’ success in their 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sunday.
The Islanders entered the best-of-7 series knowing they needed to limit the opportunities for the Lightning’s power play and believing that playing 5-on-5, rolling their four forward lines and playing within their defensive structure, would give them the best chance to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Tampa Bay converted on one of its two power plays with Brayden Point scoring 6-on-4 with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. But New York followed its blueprint well and it paid off with Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock scoring 5-on-5 goals and goalie Semyon Varlamov making 30 saves.
“I think that’s what we had to do,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “It doesn’t matter who we play against. We know who we are. We’ve got to play the way we have to, and it was good. It was good from a confidence side that you get to your game and you can have success. But we know that, so it’s not a revelation or a big surprise or anything like that.
“It’s just guys were dialed in and knew what we had to do and got it done.”
The Islanders hope to do more of the same in Game 2 at Tampa Bay on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Although New York lost to Tampa Bay in six games in the Eastern Conference Final last season, it emerged from that series believing it matched up well. An 8-2 loss in Game 1 two days after winning Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Philadelphia Flyers forced the Islanders to chase that series from the start, but they felt they played better as it progressed.
So with not much roster turnover on either team — New York has 19 players remaining and Tampa Bay has 18 back who played at least one game in the 2020 series – the Islanders had a pretty good idea of how they wanted to play– if they could stay out of the penalty box.
After the Lightning went 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) on the power play in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Islanders gave up seven power-play goals on 14 chances (50 percent) in their second-round series against the Boston Bruins, the Islanders were well aware they’d benefit from staying out of the penalty box.
“It’s obviously a key any time you play a team like Tampa or Boston or anyone with a lethal power play, you don’t want to be in the box all night because you’re just asking for a loss,” Barzal said.
The Islanders were leading 1-0 on Barzal’s breakaway goal at 12:32 of the second period before the Lightning got their first power play on Kyle Palmieri‘s interference penalty with 37 seconds remaining in the second. The Islanders killed that off without allowing a shot on goal.
[RELATED: More Lightning vs. Islanders series coverage]
The second Tampa Bay power play came on Brock Nelson‘s high stick with 1:32 remaining in the third period. By then, New York was leading 2-0 thanks to Pulock’s right-point slap shot through Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy 5:36 into the third.
“We played well there the entire game,” Varlamov said. “We played hard, physical. We play our game. We were focusing on our game and I think that’s why we had success.”
Another key was limiting the Lightning’s rush chances. Point’s breakaway with 7:34 left in the first period was one of the few Tampa Bay had in the game, and with defenseman Andy Greene pressuring him from behind, Point shot the puck over the net.
In fact, the Lightning’s top line of Ondrej Palat, Point and Nikita Kucherov combined for one shot on goal, from Kucherov in the first period, before Point got his first of the game with 2:11 remaining in the third. The Islanders limited the Lightning to 24 shots on goal at even strength.
“They’ve got a lot of skill and forwards that like to make plays off the rush,” Pulock said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to our forwards on keeping that high guy and tracking back and allowing us to keep our gaps and just not giving them much time and space there.”