Which way the series would turn in Thursday night’s Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum was the great unknown.
But one thing seemed certain: Both the Islanders and Lightning will continue to try and gain the upper hand in the physical battle as this chippy NHL semifinal unfolds.
"We’re comfortable in these games, that’s the type of style we play," Jordan Eberle said. "You want to have that hard, physical forecheck and you want to have that in-your-face type of mentality. So, the harder it gets we find that we enjoy that. That’s playoff hockey. That’s what makes it exciting and we want to continue to play that way."
The teams totaled 54 penalty minutes — including 26 in the third period plus a first-period fight between Matt Martin and the Lightning’s Pat Maroon — in the Lightning’s 4-2 win in Game 2 on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning clearly tried to be more physically engaged after criticizing themselves for sleep-walking through the Islanders’ 2-1 win in Game 1.
That physical style benefited the Islanders in six-game wins over the Penguins in the first round and then the Bruins as they rallied from 2-1 deficits in each series by wearing down their opponents.
But Islanders coach Barry Trotz does not believe the evolution of this series with regard to physical play will necessarily favor his team.
"We feel like we play a fairly physical style compared to some teams," Trotz said. "But Tampa is not a light team. Their back end is physical. They’ve got the [Barclay] Goodrow-[Yanni] Gourde-[Blake] Coleman line that’s physical. They’ve got Maroon. They’ve got plenty of physicality.
"Every team that is playing right now has that element," Trotz added. "Montreal has it on their back end. Tampa has it. We have it. Vegas has it. It’s part of being in the semifinals right now. It’s part of what you do and it’s part of your success and that applies to all four teams."
There is, though, a fine line between playing physically and needlessly giving the opponent power-play opportunities.
The Lightning went 1-for-5 on the man advantage in Game 2, leaving them 17-for-43 (39.5%) in the postseason heading into Game 3. Given that accounted for 39.5% of their 43 total playoff goals, the Islanders knew they needed to do a better job staying out of the penalty box.
But Trotz said after Game 2 the Lightning took some liberties. He elaborated the next day that the Islanders were absorbing "extra shots" after the whistle because they can’t afford to retaliate and draw more penalties.
"You saw what was going on," Trotz said on Thursday. "We rely on our five-on-five game and we knew that their power play is hitting at ungodly numbers. So, if we’re going to win the series, we need to stay out of the penalty box. They’re taking some liberties between whistles, all those things. A lot of scrums. We’ve got to stay out of all that. Whistle-to-whistle we’re going to play hard five-on-five and we’ll walk away from all that.
"The most important thing is trying to win the series and doing what it takes to win the series. We’re not going to get too involved in trying to make it a special-teams event. We want to play straight up five-on-five and our team is disciplined enough to do that."
The Islanders were 1-for-4 on the power play in Game 2 and entered Game 3 1-for-7 in the series.
They went 2-for-19 on the power play in their six-game loss to the Lightning in last season’s Eastern Conference finals in the Edmonton bubble.