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No surprise that the Lightning struck back against Islanders in Game 2

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates his goal against the Islanders with right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) during the first period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

So this was what all the pre-series gushing was about from every corner of the hockey world – including from the Islanders themselves – about the deep, dangerous defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

Forgive those of us who spent the regular season watching a numbing parade of intra-division games against the likes of the Devils and Sabres and forgot what the rest of the league looks like, especially its elite teams.

Turns out, the Lightning are not the somnambulant zombies they appeared to be on Sunday, when the Islanders rang the life out of them in the first game of the teams’ NHL semifinal series.

To misquote Dennis Green, they were who we thought they were in Game 2 in Tampa on Tuesday night, looking like the talented foe we had heard about in securing a 4-2 victory that evened the series.

In answering a question about backup goalie Ilya Sorokin after the game, Matt Martin casually called the Bolts "probably the highest-powered offensive team in the league."

Most promising for Tampa Bay, and ominous for the Islanders, was that after totaling three shots on goal in a 2-1 loss in Game 1, the Lightning’s top line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov was back to normal.

The trio combined for nine shots on goal, two goals and three assists – all by Kucherov, the first two of which were spectacular, including a no-look pass from behind the net to set up Point.

"We knew they were going to come, and they got it," Brock Nelson said.

It was not that the Islanders were bad. They had their moments, usually only to be thwarted by Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. They certainly can play with these guys.

But the outcome confirmed that the Islanders have a big challenge ahead to win three out of five and reach their first Cup Final since 1984.

"We can be a lot better, and we will be," coach Barry Trotz said.

No one expected this to be as simple as it looked in Game 1, a dud that left Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper so fed up with his team’s effort he cracked, "I think the Islanders probably didn’t have to shower after that game."

That was an exaggeration, but not by much. It was evident in Game 2 the Lightning were determined to ratchet up their intensity level from the start.

A few minutes into it, Pat Maroon scrapped with the Islanders’ Scott Mayfield, the first of several post-whistle battles that extended to and beyond the final horn.

There were 20 penalties assessed, for a total of 54 minutes.

Each team benefited from a controversial officiating moment.

Nelson scored a power play goal to tie it at 1 shortly after Point was called for a penalty, even though the Islanders’ Adam Pelech pushed him from behind as he skated toward the net, causing Point to bowl over goaltender Semyon Varlamov and dislodge the goal.

Varlamov, whose head collided with Point’s on the play, was ordered to the dressing room for tests and replaced by Sorokin for the rest of the period.

Later, Palat scored off a pass from Kucherov to make it 2-1; the Lightning had too many men on the ice at the time.

"It was missed; that’s hockey," Martin said. "It happens. There’s nothing we can do about it; move on to the next game at home and focus on that."

Call it a wash after the bad call on Point in the first period resulted in a goal for the visitors.

The Lightning added two goals in the third from Jan Rutta and Victor Hedman, their first two from their defense corps during these playoffs, another sign of the depth the Islanders must contend with.

"They have a lot of skill over there," Nelson said. "We don’t expect it to be easy."

That’s good, because it will not be. But it is not supposed to be at this stage. There is supposed to be high drama and stiff tests.

In Game 1, there was none of that. On Tuesday, the series really got started.

New York Sports