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Brock Nelson's line could be key as Islanders enter Game 4 against Lightning

Brock Nelson #29 of the Islanders celebrates his

Brock Nelson #29 of the Islanders celebrates his first goal of the second period against the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with teammate Anthony Beauvillier #18 at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders need Brock Nelson and his linemates, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey, in the offensive zone as much as they do in the defensive zone.

So, any scoring production struggles must be compartmentalized and not allowed to seep into their 200-foot game.

"You try to think about all of it and separate it," Nelson said. "You’d like to contribute offensively and help a team win a game. You’re trying to generate some sort of momentum for the team. There are different ways. If one’s not going, try to get to the other one. You’ve just got to go out there and play the game that is."

The trio had combined for just one goal and one assist against the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning entering Saturday night’s crucial Game 4 of the NHL semifinal series at Nassau Coliseum with the Islanders needing a win to guarantee at least one more playoff match at the venerable barn.

The Islanders have now fallen into 2-1 series deficits in all three postseason rounds, rallying for six-game victories against the Penguins and then the Bruins, and this series shifts back to Amalie Arena for Monday night’s Game 5.

At the same time, Nelson’s line has often been tasked with the difficult defensive assignment of tracking the Lightning’s potent top trio of Brayden Point between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.

Point scored the late second-period winner in the Lightning’s 2-1 victory in Thursday night’s Game 3, albeit seconds after a power play expired and with the Islanders’ penalty killers and not Nelson’s line on the ice.

Point had a goal in each of the first three games of the series, Kucherov had five assists and Palat had also chipped in with a goal.

Beauvillier entered Game 4 without a goal in his previous four games while Bailey had one assist in the series. The Islanders were held to five goals over the series’ first three games.

"Yeah, not a great night," Nelson, who had a power-play goal in the Islanders’ 4-2 loss in Game 2 at Amalie Arena, said of his line’s Game 3 performance. "Space is tough out there. It’s tough to generate chances. They’ve got a good team, a good 'D' corps. They track back hard and [goalie Andrei] Vasilevskiy makes the saves when they need."

Yet the Islanders were able to rely on Nelson’s line in both ends through the first two rounds.

Bailey’s five goals and seven assists through the first 15 playoff games were second only to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s three goals and 10 assists for the team’s scoring lead. Nelson (seven goals, four assists) and Beauvillier (four goals, seven assists) were in a three-way tie along with Mathew Barzal (five goals, six assists) for third place on the team’s scoring list.

Nelson’s line received a majority of the defensive shifts against Sidney Crosby’s top line for the Penguins and the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak trio for the Bruins.

"They’re a good line for us," coach Barry Trotz said. "We’re trying to keep Point’s line off the board. Just as the series before it was Bergeron’s line and the series before it was Crosby’s line. It’s not the easiest task but I thought, the last game, we did a heck of a job and it gave us an opportunity.

"With Nelson’s line, they’re going to have to get to the net," Trotz added. "Plain and simple. Have to get to the net. There’s not much room. They get hard matchups and you’ve got to battle through it. They’ve delivered. I expect them to deliver in this series."

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