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The Tampa Bay Lightning did not win the Stanley Cup in the bubble last season just by being a finesse team. They won because they wore out teams defensively and received excellent goaltending by Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Islanders are finding out the hard way after losing the last two playoff games to the defending Stanley Cup champions. They struggled to create scoring chances or get second chance scoring. They haven’t been able to put anything past Vasilevskiy. It’s why they are now down 2-1 in the Stanley Cup semifinals after a 2-1 loss Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Here’s what’s damning: The Lightning not only beat the Islanders at their own game, but they played better at it than the Islanders. The Lightning defense made sure the Islanders did not have any room to skate. They are also knocking the Islanders down on the ice.
Thursday night turned out to be a convincing victory for the Lightning. The Islanders never gave them an impression they were going to do much, even when they tied it at 1. When they actually threw the puck in the net, Vasilevskiy was there to stop them to the tune of 27 saves.
It sure isn’t pretty when the other team starts playing Islanders hockey as the Islanders come to find out. This isn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins anymore.
The Islanders forced the Lightning to adapt to their style of play by letting the game come to them and frustrate their opponent to a submission that they would pounce on their mistakes, and it’s working out. This could spell trouble for the Islanders if they don’t figure it out quickly, and they know it.
The onus is on Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier to amp up their play. They need to figure it out. Barzal has played okay, but he has to do what Brayden Point has done for the Lightning, which is score goals at the opportune time.
After the Islanders tied the game at 1 on a Cal Clutterbuck greasy goal with three minutes to go in the second period, it was Point that scored two minutes later to break a 1-1 tie.
This came after Point scored the first goal on Tuesday night’s Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Lightning.
Point scored three goals against the Islanders so far in the Stanley Cup semifinals, and he scored 11 goals overall this postseason. That’s what the Islanders need out of their star players.
With due respect to Ryan Pulock, who has played great defensively in the playoffs, it’s not good that he is the Islanders best player in this series so far. It has to be Barzal and Beauvillier. Those two are the Islanders best players, and they haven’t played like one. They need to change that narrative starting Saturday night.
We knew the Lightning would match the Islanders’ intensity. The Islanders effort has been fine the last two games. The problem is the Islanders need to ratchet up even more. That means getting more production from Barzal and Beauvillier. They need to find a way to break through the Lightning defense.
This is where losing Anders Lee hurts. He could have given the Lightning some big hits and created scoring chances to break through that defense. Most importantly, he could be the guy scoring the greasy goal that is needed in the playoffs. Only Cal Clutterbuck comes close to that.
When the Lightning players such as Steve Stamkos sacrifice their offensive game to block shots, it shows how much they evolved in their own game to be champions. They knew they had to do something different after underachieving in the playoffs in past seasons. Their willingness to play a complete game is why they are a good bet to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
It also helps that they have a goaltender that can win a game by himself. Vasilevskiy was as good as Semyon Varlamov in Game 3. He denied Kyle Palmieri twice in the game. He stoned Barzal. He never gave room for Beauvillier to shoot. The Vezina Trophy finalist was in such a zone.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz is known to make series adjustments, and he better come off with an answer to that Lightning stingy defense by Saturday. If he can’t come up with one, this series could be short in the sense it could end on Monday night in Tampa.
Here’s one man’s advice to the head coach: Play Oliver Wahlstrom. Yes, he is not 100 percent. No matter. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Take Leo Komarov out of the lineup and insert Wahlstrom in there. Either that or put Palmieri in the Barzal and Jordan Eberle line and pair Wahlstrom with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Travis Zajac.
The pressure is now on the Islanders. The Lightning accomplished the objective of winning one at the Coliseum. They can certainly win another game there. Shoot, they can win all three games there if it even comes to Game 6.
The Islanders can start from playing ahead rather than playing catch up. It’s one thing to come from behind against the Penguins and Bruins, but it’s another to do this against the Lightning.
If the Islanders don’t come up with an answer on Saturday, Game 4 could be the final game ever at the Coliseum.