When the final buzzer sounded after the Lightning’s 8-2 Game 1 win, there was no big celebration, only your standard fist-bumps between teammates and stick-taps to congratulate goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Tampa had just sunk the Islanders in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final in a postseason that’s “Stanley Cup or bust” for the franchise. It was an impressive win; they went nearly 59 minutes without missing the net, tied the team record for goals in a playoff game, and won for their fifth in a row.
But a veteran team like the Lightning know you cannot get too high or low in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and there’s no room for celebration until you’re the ones lifting the Cup. That’s why when head coach Jon Cooper made his way into the dressing room after Game 1, he wasn’t greeted with a boisterous group impressed with their performance.
“What is that, our ninth win in the playoffs?” Cooper said Tuesday. “It was probably the quietest it has been in the room out of our wins. That’s a pretty exciting time to win a game in the playoffs, let alone where we are right now. I think it was a combination of we know the Islanders are going to be better and a combination of I know we can be better and they know we can be better.”
The Islanders learned a hard lesson in Game 1. They got away from the defensive strengths that helped them to this point and shut down the Panthers, Capitals, and Flyers. A team like Tampa cannot be allowed time and space to create chances. The Lightning had a 21-13 even strength shot advantage and capitalized on their opportunities. In Barry Trotz’s eyes, New York was “watching rather than participating.”
Look at the space given to Ryan McDonagh on Tampa’s third goal.
— #StanleyCup Playoffs on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 8, 2020
“They ended up scoring on almost all their chances,” Trotz said. “If you look at the analytics of the game, it was probably closer than an 8-2 game. It doesn’t feel good when you’re sitting there and the score is 8-2. The only analytics that matters is the scoreboard.”
Fortunately for the Islanders it was just one game. Tampa could have won 100-2 and it only counts as one victory in a best-of-seven series. While Trotz and his staff have pored over video assessing what went wrong, the players can flush that rout out of their systems and focus on Game 2 Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).
“This team is much better, and I know they’ll respond,” Trotz said. “It was really hard. I’ll be honest, after the game, to try to, we sort of do our evaluations on our team and our individual players, and it was hard because it was such a strange game for everybody involved.”
This is the first time the New York has trailed in a series this postseason. They’ve only lost back-to-back games once before rebounding in Game 7 against the Flyers in the Second Round. The Lightning know they’ll get a better Islanders team in Game 2 and don’t want to lose this momentum.
“It’s really only a statement if you can follow it up in Game 2,” Cooper said. “We come out and lay an egg [Wednesday] night and it’s 1-1, what kind of statement did we make? Well, let’s make a statement and be even better than we were [Monday] night in Game 2 and see where the chips fall. It’s a good first step, but it’s just one little step.”
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (TB leads 1-0)
Game 1: Lightning 8, Islanders 2. (recap)
Game 2: Wednesday, Sept. 9, 8 p.m ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Friday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m. ET – USA (livestream)
Game 4: Sunday, Sept. 13, 3 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Tuesday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 6: Thursday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC