The Islanders are trying to figure out how to bottle up some of the Lightning’s elite skaters. One way you’re sure to see in Tuesday night’s Game 3 is an old-fashioned containment style. The Isles are going to get physical.
For a team that’s been among the league leaders in hits the past few years, that shouldn’t be an issue. But it was in the third periods of Games 1 and 2, when the Islanders let the smaller, speedier Lightning carry the play.
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It nearly became an issue in Game 1 when a 4-1 Isles lead shrunk to 4-3 in the closing minutes. It certainly was an issue in Game 2, when the Islanders mustered only three shots on goal in the third period and let Tampa Bay maintain its lead by pushing the pace. It was led by the Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov as well as 20-year- old Jonathan Drouin, who has been dangling untouched an awful lot in the Islanders’ zone the first two games.
“We definitely want to be more physical on some of their guys,” Kyle Okposo said. “We really want to dictate the pace of the play. They have a fast team, they have some guys who can really move. We have to slow them down, make them defend, make them play a little more in the ‘D’ zone.”
“Soft” is not a word the Islanders want to hear about their game. But coach Jack Capuano has used it a few times in reference to the third periods of Games 1 and 2. It’s certainly meant as an indictment of his team, which lives off wearing down opposing defensemen either with the relentless physical play of Casey Cizikas’ fourth line or the puck possession and cycle game of John Tavares and his linemates.
“I think we know we were a little soft, we let them create a little too much time and space,” Capuano said after a lengthy, spirited practice at Iceworks in Syosset on Monday. “They’re quick, they’re skilled. I think our ‘D’ now after the first couple games have a good understanding of how we need to play.”
Barclays Center could help in a handful of ways as it hosts the next two games.
The Islanders should get a boost from their raucous fans, who held forth loudly during the three games against the Panthers in the first round. There also will be the last line change for Capuano, which will allow him to pick more favorable matchups. He almost certainly will try to keep Tavares away from Victor Hedman, who had a dominant Game 2 on the Tampa Bay defense.
There’s also the ice, which generously could be described as “soft” — and was by a few Lightning players after practice Monday. Both teams have to deal with it, as the saying goes, but the Islanders have become accustomed to the quirks of Barclays Center.
The Lightning has been to Brooklyn only once this season, a 5-2 Islanders win on April 4.
“We’ve talked about a lot of ways to handle things better and we’re going to come out tomorrow and have a better game, that’s for sure,” Okposo said. “We still haven’t played our best, and we’re going to have to change that.”