The familiar way the Islanders played looked nothing like the series-opening clunker. That was the response coach Barry Trotz expected.
But this one was even more painful.
Nikita Kucherov’s goal with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation lifted the short-handed Lightning, down to nine forwards after losing two during the game, to a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night with a 2-1 win at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” said Matt Martin, who gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 1:24 of the first period with his fifth postseason goal, matching his regular-season total. “We believed we could still win this series and we still do. You play like that, more often than not you’re going to win.”
Needless to say, Friday night’s Game 3 is a 99.9% must win.
Semyon Varlamov made 19 saves after relieving Thomas Greiss midway through the first period of Monday night’s 8-2 loss in Game 1. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 shots for the Lightning.
“We’ve lost in different ways that have punched us in the stomach a few times in the last series,” Trotz said of three overtime losses to the Flyers in a seven-game, second-round win. “This one’s a little shot to the gut. Every time we’ve done that, we’ve got up. I liked a lot about our game, other than probably the last 30 seconds.”
The Lightning won Monday’s Game 1, 8-2, with a 3-for-6 power play and five-point games from Brayden Point (he exited in the second period of Game 2 and did not return) and Kucherov.
Still, Game 2 was about the missed opportunities for the Islanders. They could not convert on a five-minute power play in the first period after Alex Killorn was assessed a boarding major against Brock Nelson and ejected for intent-to-injure. They did not get off a shot during 38-seconds of a five-on-three in the third period, too often choosing to look for the perfect pass instead of getting to the net.
“You’re hoping to get a look there,” said Nelson, adding he felt “good” after going through concussion protocol and returning in the second period. “It stings giving one up with nine seconds left. That said, you turn the page.”
The Islanders made many of the corrections they wanted, getting pucks deeper in the offensive zone and establishing a strong forecheck, tightening their structure and not allowing the Lightning to stretch them out in the defensive zone for shots through traffic. They won puck battles in an increasingly chippy game. The penalty kill was successful on all three tries.
But, on the winning sequence, Kuckerov was left wide open at the right post for a one-timer off defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s feed.
“They hit the middle, they dumped it in, they changed sides, they threw it to the front of the net,” Trotz said. “We missed a little coverage in the middle of the net there. Great pass from the corner, between two of our guys in coverage. He doesn’t need much of a window.”
The Islanders emphasized getting off to a stronger start after the Game 1 debacle and held a 13-4 shot advantage in the first period.
But defenseman Victor Hedman tied the game on the Lightning’s fourth shot at 18:25 after defenseman Devon Toews iced the puck inches from the red line. Replays seemed to show the puck deflecting off defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s stick – which would have negated the icing – but the Lightning got the call.
“We were sure they tipped it and it shouldn’t have been an icing call, that’s why our bench was so upset,” Trotz said. “Those are moments where you fight through it. You have to get it done. But we didn’t get it done in that moment.”
Goodrow beat Mathew Barzal – taking a defensive-zone faceoff in Nelson’s spot – on the draw and Hedman’s low shot from the left point through traffic slid past Varlamov’s right pad as he failed to cover the near post.
“I think we feel like we played a pretty solid game,” said Josh Bailey, who shoveled a puck that wouldn’t settle high with an open look at the net in the second period. “We’ve just got to stick with it. This is no time to get down.”