The Tampa Bay Lightning followed the recipe and cooked up a win to get even with the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
“It was a team effort,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said of the 4-2 home victory in Game 2 on Tuesday. “It was more used to the way we were playing.”
The Lightning got their first two goals from defensemen in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, one at 5-on-5 and one on the power play. They got big, timely saves from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. They skated to draw penalties and mucked it up to create energy.
Their best players were their best players, and it all led to them tying the best-of-7 series, which shifts to Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“The series is 1-1 and it probably should be,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “To get this far in the playoffs and beat a quality team like the Islanders, you can’t slip up. You have to be in it both mentally and physically, and tonight I thought we were. I thought the Islanders were in Game 1 a little bit better than us. But our guys, these past two playoff runs, they really dig their heels in after a loss and they did that again tonight. Now we have to keep building on this momentum that we have.”
The Lightning have not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs since losing four straight to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round. They improved to 4-0 following a loss this season after going 7-0 last season on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
“I thought today was a good example of a hungry team that was ready to battle and play the way we wanted to play,” Hedman.
The difference in the Lightning’s performance against the Islanders from Game 1, a 2-1 loss, to Game 2 was multifaceted.
For starters, they managed the puck better in Game 2. They didn’t have glaring turnovers that led to goals as they did in Game 1.
“We weren’t forcing many plays to feed their transition,” forward Brayden Point said.
Strong puck management allowed the Lightning to have sustained puck possession in the offensive zone. That got the Islanders chasing the puck around in their defensive zone, which led to them taking penalties.
The Lightning, who were clicking at 42.1 percent on the power play entering Game 2, had five power plays Tuesday. The Islanders hadn’t been on the penalty kill more than three times in any of their first 13 playoff games.
The Lightning didn’t score on the first three power plays, but finally cashed in when Hedman scored at 9:17 of the third period to make it 4-1.
New York forward Travis Zajac was in the box for slashing Tampa Bay forward Barclay Goodrow when Hedman scored. It was his second penalty in less than four minutes, both taken with the Lightning controlling play in the offensive zone.
“We looked fast,” Hedman said. “We were executing passes. We took what was there.”
They competed better and smarter than they did in Game 1.
“We were selling out a lot more, guys were winning races to puck,” Point said.
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Getting goals from defensemen was big, both on the scoreboard and for morale.
The Lightning had no goals from defensemen in their first 12 playoff games after getting 25 in 56 games during the regular season and 17 in 25 games in the 2020 postseason.
Jan Rutta changed that in the third period, putting a slap shot from the right point over goalie Semyon Varlamov‘s blocker and into the top left corner of the net at 2:16 to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
It was Rutta’s first goal in 22 NHL playoff games and his first in 71 games overall since Dec. 14, 2019.
“Before the first game no one mentioned that the defense didn’t score any goals, but you lose that game and all of a sudden it gets mentioned,” Hedman said. “We wanted to put an end to that tonight and what better way than top shelf by ‘Roots’.”
Vasilevskiy came up big when needed to, particularly with his left-pad save on a point-blank shot from Anthony Beauvillier with eight seconds remaining in the second period to maintain a 2-1 lead.
“You need your guy back there to bail you out when you break down and he sure did that,” Cooper said.
Still, Vasilevskiy was only part of it, as he’s supposed to be when the Lightning are following the recipe.
“But we can’t sit here and say, ‘OK, we got them in Game 2, we’re going to get them in Game 3,’ ” Cooper said. “Not a chance. Now we’ve got to go do this on the road and you have to take another step forward, as hard as it is. You can’t be content on this.”