TAMPA, Fla. — After watching from afar for the final two games of the first-round series against the Panthers, 22-year-old Islanders forward Ryan Strome got another chance in Wednesday night’s second-round opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Strome, who was 1-1-2 in Game 1, the first of four games before being a healthy scratch, started on the wing, with Brock Nelson and Shane Prince, in the 5-3 victory. Strome got two assists in the second period.
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“He was sitting watching two important games,” head coach Jack Capuano said before the game at Amalie Arena. “It’s tough to make those decisions, based upon the matchups that you have at home. We need him to play with the pace he needs to play and the determination in his game. I’ve talked to Ryan plenty of times and have no doubt in my mind that he’ll do the job for us.”
Strome’s first period since Game 4 didn’t begin on a high note. He checked Ondrej Palat along the boards in the Lightning zone, but Palat raced down the ice, trailing the play with Strome in pursuit. Palat made it 1-0 when Jonathan Drouin found him down the middle at 3:05. But at 17:28 of the first, he threaded a pass through Victor Hedman to a wide-open Prince at the doorstep for a 2-1 lead and then, from behind the net, found Prince again for a high shot that eluded Ben Bishop for a 3-1 lead with three seconds left.
Strome, the fifth overall draft pick in 2011, had a subpar sophomore season with just eight goals and 30 points in 71 games after a 50-point season in 2014-15. He was sent back to Bridgeport for three weeks in November, and was replaced by Steve Bernier in Games 5 and 6.
“I wasn’t too disappointed with the way I was playing,’’ Strome said after Wednesday’s morning skate, and said he wouldn’t do much different in the second-round opener. “I don’t think so,” he said, “you just keep playing, you just play to your strengths, play hard, battle hard. If you play hard, that’s all you can ask for.”
The team needs secondary scoring, and Strome always had the skill. He scored between 30 and 34 goals in three consecutive seasons for the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs.
Before the game, Strome said he believed both he and his teammates had “grown as a group” in the last two playoffs series, a seven-game battle against Washington last season, and the six-game bout against the Panthers, which the Islanders won 4-2 to bring them to Tampa.
“That Game 7 against Washington was a real pressure game,” he recalled. “There were some nerves. Game 6 was one of our best games of the year and we had a little bit of an emotional letdown for whatever reason. The good thing is, if you look at the last series, we found some answers. As I said before the series, we’d been through a lot and we kind of knew how to react. I wasn’t playing in Game 6, but even when we were losing it seemed like there was no stress and in the series, if we got down early, there was no panic.”
That experience boosts confidence, Strome said.
“The biggest thing is we have a couple guys (Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk) who’ve won Stanley Cups in here but at the same time we’ve been through it as a group,” Strome added.