When you think of the Tampa Bay Lightning, you often think of the pure goal scorers and firepower they have in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
And when you think of the New York Islanders, you often think of the great team defense, the great patience, discipline and the outstanding shot-blocking ability they have.
Well, it turns out the Lightning are really just a better version of the Islanders, with some opportune scoring from Point thrown in.
The Islander Mantra Stolen
Tampa has adopted the Islander mantra: Get the lead, extend the lead and protect the lead, and it worked like a charm last night.
In the 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the semifinals, giving Tampa a 2-1 series lead, Tampa got the lead on a Yanni Gourde goal in the first period.
After Cal Clutterbuck tied the game 1-1 in the second period, Point got the go-ahead marker less than three minutes later. There was no scoring in the third period.
The statistic that stands out was that the Lightning blocked 21 shots. That’s like ripping a page from the Islander playbook. They also had more takeaways. And by throwing a blanket over New York’s offense, they took the crowd out of the game, and this crowd was ready to rock.
Lightning Put Up A Wall
The Islanders weren’t bad at all in that shot-blocking department. They blocked 15 shots and they limited Tampa to only five shots in the third period. You can’t play better team defense than that. Unless you’re Tampa.
Not only do they have a wall in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, but they have defensemen like Victor Hedman blocking four shots and Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev blocking three each.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 18, 2021
Tampa also had something a little extra. They have Point. This guy is like money in the bank in the playoffs.
Point scored for the sixth straight game as his falling-down shot found its way through traffic and past Islander goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Point out here getting it done 👊 pic.twitter.com/UyP4SAwC3B
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 18, 2021
Point is the only active player to record a six-game goal streak in the Stanley Cup playoffs and became just the seventh different skater in the last 30 postseasons to register a stretch of at least that length. The 25-year-old Point, who made his playoff debut in 2018, has posted 33 goals in 58 postseason games.
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Vasilevskiy Rock Solid
Vasilevskiy is another problem that the Islanders must solve if they are going to win this series. The Russian netminder has held the opposition to one goal or less in each of his last four road games — a run that includes a shutout in Game 5 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. to close out the second round.
The native of Tyumen, Russia, owns a .935 save percentage in these playoffs, which is the second-highest mark in a single postseason by a Lightning goaltender (minimum 10 games). He trails only Ben Bishop, who concluded the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a .939 save percentage.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper hit all the right notes going into Game 3. He had complained that his players weren’t hungry enough. They sure looked hungry last night.
“It was will that got us through it,” Cooper told reporters. “We’ll need to have that again if we’re going to come in here in Game 4 and do the same thing.”
Islanders Struggle Again in Game 3
For some reason, the Islanders have not produced their best hockey in Game 3 of the postseason. The Islanders lost Game 3 at home to hand the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 series lead in the opening round. And they lost Game 3 at home to the Boston Bruins in the second round.
But both times they bounced back to capture those series. They lost to Pittsburgh 5-4 at home in Game 3 and then rattled off three straight wins to take the series in six games. Against Boston, they lost 2-1 at home in Game 3 and then stormed back with three straight wins to take that series in six games.
But Tampa is not Pittsburgh and Tampa is not Boston. It’s hard to see the Islanders rolling over Tampa in the next three games to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The challenge for New York is breaking through Tampa’s defense. The Islanders have scored a total of only five goals in the first three games, and some would suggest that coach Barry Trotz should take Leo Komarov off the first line.
Offensively, he contributes very little and doesn’t seem to have chemistry with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Barzal skates like the wind, but he holds the puck too long because, in part, there’s no one to pass it to.
Is Komarov Right Fit With Barzal?
Komarov actually had a few scoring chances last night, but he doesn’t have a scorer’s touch. Those shots were easy stops for Vasilevskiy. In these playoffs, Komarov has zero goals and three assists.
In 33 games during the regular season, he had one goal. In his last five games, he has no points and a total of only five shots on net. It’s hard to argue that he is worthy of top-line duty with your most talented forward, Barzal.
But if you drop him down the line, who goes up? And is it too late to start tinkering with your lineup?
The Islanders sure could use Oliver Wahlstrom, who remains day to day with an injury. But if Wahlstrom goes back in, he might be a better fit with on the third line with Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Travis Zajac then would be elevated from the third line to the No. 1 line. This seems to make the most sense, even though the great shot-making ability of Wahlstrom would be a nice complement to Barzal’s creativity and passing.
Of course, the best-case scenario is getting Anders Lee back. Although he’s been skating with the reserves and looking fast, it’s hard to believe he would be back in the lineup anytime soon.
— Mike Carver (@CarverHigh_) June 17, 2021
Trotz understands what he’s up against in the Tampa series. Natural scorers like Anthony Beauvillier have to fight harder for those inches because Tampa is playing tight.
“They’ve (Tampa) been in this position before a few times obviously, they’re Stanley Cup champions,” Trotz said. “We tried. We have to get more pucks, we’re going to have to get inside. We had some chances, and Vasilevskiy made a couple of key saves.”
“That’s always made us successful is our composure and the way we stick to our identity and our game plan,” Martin said. “We’re always going to play with confidence because we believe we’re a good team.”