Islanders now facing massive task vs. Lightning

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So the essential question arising from the Lightning’s 4-2, Game 2 victory in Tampa on Tuesday that squared this Cup semifinal at one-all is this:

If the defending champs continue to play with the same intensity and alacrity as they did in this one, can the Islanders elevate their game, avoid the unusual number of forced and unforced errors they committed in this one and match the Lightning for the duration of this series?

Look, the sky did not fall in on the Islanders on this night, not at all. It was 2-1, Tampa Bay, after two, with the Ondrej Palat’s tiebreaking second goal at 13:15 of the second scored while all four officials missed a rather blatant too-many-men infraction.

But, hey, Brock Nelson scored to tie the game 1-1 at 13:30 of the first while on a power play they never should have been awarded, the refs overeager to hit Brayden Point with a goaltender interference penalty when he was actually shoved into Semyon Varlamov by Adam Pelech. So really, not much of a kick.

“It’s hockey,” said Matt Martin, one of his team’s most impactful players who in fact was one of the six on the ice for the final 33.1 seconds when the Islanders had pulled Varlamov. “It happens.”

Beyond that, the goal was scored after the Islanders failed to clear the zone despite having control behind the net. That doesn’t usually happen. And there was pretty much a repeat on Jan Rutta’s 3-1 goal from the right point at 2:16 of the third period that followed a mishap on what could have and should have been a controlled breakout.

The Lightning defeated the Islanders in Game 2.
The Lightning defeated the Islanders in Game 2.

Forced and unforced, there were just too many errors, too many lagging details. Again, though, did you expect the Lightning to abdicate?

“We knew a very good hockey team was going to have a desperate push,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “From my standpoint, we can be a lot better and we will be. We knew they were going to have their ‘A’ game.

“We’ve got to execute a little bit better and then we’ve got to battle that out. The third goal was a prime example of that. Too loose on the play, not enough execution and a little bit of everything on the exits. We’ve got to have those details and we didn’t have it.”

The difference in the tenor of the game was palpable. Sunday was for the most part a playoff stroll in the park. This was a pitched battle from the start that never quite let up. There were ill feelings from the outset that barely subsided. The series has been joined. Again, you were expecting something else?

“We knew they were going to come with a good response,” Nelson said of the club that is 11-0 following playoff defeats the last two years, and he was correct.

The difference, too, is that the Lightning difference-makers stepped up after having been rendered impotent in Game 1. The Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov triumvirate dominated shifts and accounted for a pair of goals. Victor Hedman, not much of a factor at all in Game 1, was appropriately massive even before scoring a power-play goal to make it 4-1 midway through the third period.

On Sunday, the Lightning drew only two power plays, the first awarded in the final minute of the second period. In this one, there were five Tampa Bay power plays, the first coming just 4:16 into the match. The Lightning only scored one with the advantage, but five tries is tempting fate.

The Islanders hung in with the champs but never were able to rattle them. Andrei Vasilevskiy was outstanding, making his save of the game by denying Anthony Beauvillier on a backhand in front with 0:07 remaining in the second to preserve the 2-1 lead. But for all the netminder’s superiority, he was not tested with quantity, there were not enough second tries.

Mat Barzal did what he could, scoring his fifth goal in the last six games to narrow the margin to 4-2 with 3:16 remaining but he was afforded little time and space. There was a neat spin-a-rama from the left early in the third, but the Lightning, which sicced the Ryan McDonagh-Erik Cernak pair on him as the matchup, was not about to allow No. 13 dazzle too brightly.

Tampa played up-tempo but clamped down as well. The Islanders had a draw just outside the offensive blue line with 2:07 remaining and an extra attacker on the ice. They generated one shot and two attempts the rest of the way.

Next stop is The Old Barn on Thursday, where the Islanders will attempt to hold serve through the next two matches. That will be no small task playing against a team that not only looked like a Stanley Cup champion in this one, but, come to think of it, is the Stanley Cup champion.

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