TAMPA, Fla. – Both the Islanders and the Lightning knew the Lightning would be better in Game 2.
Now, it’s the Islanders turn to improve their play.
"We knew a very good hockey team was going to have a very desperate push," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "We can be a lot better and we will be."
The Lightning, taking control in the third period, won, 4-2, in a chippy contest on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena to even the NHL semifinal series at one game apiece. The teams combined for 54 penalty minutes as the Islanders had a four-game winning streak snapped.
Game 3 is Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
"You want to win both but a split on the road is how we started each series so far," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "We’re excited to get back to our house."
The Islanders won Game 1, 2-1, on Sunday afternoon as they won the physical battles, controlled the five-on-five play and got better goaltending. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves for the Lightning in Game 2 while Semyon Varlamov stopped 23 shots after missing some of the first period for concussion protocol.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper quipped, "I think the Islanders probably didn’t have to shower after [Game 1]."
"We knew they were going to come with a good response," said Brock Nelson, whose unassisted power-play goal from the low slot at 13:30 of the first period tied the game at 1. "I thought we did a pretty good job coming out of the gates. It’s hockey. There’s bounces, breaks. They were able to get a couple and get the lead and we were unable to get it back."
The Islanders went 1-for-4 on the man advantage and Varlamov needed to stop Yanni Gourde’s shorthanded breakaway at 4:06 of the second period. The Lightning were 1-for-5 as defenseman Victor Hedman gave the Lightning a 4-1 lead at 9:17 of the third period with a man-advantage blast.
"Tonight we kept them at 20%, which is half the rate they usually hit at," Trotz said of the Lightning’s 17-for-43 (39.5%) power play. "We can’t just take that many. They were taking some liberties tonight. But it’s a long series."
Jan Rutta’s rising blast from the right point had made it 3-1 at 2:16 of the third period, marking the first postseason goal the Lightning had gotten from a defenseman.
Meanwhile, the Lightning’s top trio of Brayden Point between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov (three assists) were dominant after combining for just three shots in Game 1.
They combined for nine shots in Game 2 – all through the first two periods – and five points.
Palat made it 2-1 at 13:15 of the second period after Hedman sprung Kucherov up ice. Kucherov was unable to find a shot but did find Palat open in the slot as he trailed the play.
But referees Dan O’Rourke and Francois St. Laurent and linesmen Ryan Gibbons and Michel Cormier all missed the Lightning having too many men on the ice, leaving Trotz livid on the bench.
"The second goal, that one hurt quite a bit," Trotz said. "If they get the third one there’s a little more separation. And you guys know there’s too many men on the ice. There’s seven guys. So I’m disappointed in that."
But it could also be argued Nelson’s power-play goal came as the result of an incorrect call.
Varlamov was knocked backward hard into his net by an onrushing Point at 10:22 of a first period that featured 22 penalty minutes between the teams after they combined for 14 penalty minutes in Game 1. Defenseman Adam Pelech made contact with Point, who was called for goalie interference despite being knocked off balance and into the goalie.
By then, the Lightning led 1-0 as Kucherov, with a slick touch pass from behind the crease, set up Point to lift a shot over Varlamov from off the right post at 8:58.
Ilya Sorokin stopped all six shots he faced for the remainder of the first period with Varlamov back in the Islanders’ dressing room.
Mathew Barzal closed the gap to 4-2 at 16:44 of the third period, converting the rebound of Jordan Eberle’s initial shot.