The Tampa Bay Lightning were not anywhere near as dominant as they were in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but they still did just enough to steal Game 2 against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.
Nikita Kucherov scored the game-winning goal with just eight seconds remaining to lift the Lightning to a 2-1 win. They now have a 2-0 series lead.
That goal came at the end of a great shift that had the Lightning buzzing around the New York net, and was concluded with a beautiful cross-ice pass from Ryan McDonagh to set up Kucherov for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
This is going to be a tough one for the Islanders to swallow.
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Not only because they lost in the closing seconds and now face a two-game deficit, but because of everything that transpired before the Kucherov goal.
On one hand, everything about the Islanders performance was a 180 turnaround from Monday night. They had an amazing start and were the better team for much of the game. They controlled the play and had countless opportunities to take over and put themselves in a position to even the series.
But it also turned out to be a night of badly missed opportunities, frustration, and failure to capitalize on what should have been a favorable matchup.
- The Lightning played half of the game with only nine forwards. They started with 11 forwards dressed (to play seven defensemen), and then lost Alex Killorn just five minutes into the game when he was ejected for a late hit on Brock Nelson.
- Making matters worse, Brayden Point — their top offensive player this postseason — exited the game midway through the second period due to an injury and did not return.
- The Islanders failed to score on the five-minute major power play following the Killorn hit and missed an opportunity to take what could have been a two-goal lead.
- Tampa Bay’s first goal — a Victor Hedman goal — was the result of an offensive face-off win that came after Devon Toews failed to gain the red line on a dump-in, resulting in an icing call. Hedman scored quite literally right off the ensuing face-off.
- In the third period the Islanders had an extended 5-on-3 power play, again in a tie game, and again failed to score. They went 0-for-4 on the power play for the game.
That is going to result in a lot of frustration, especially if they are unable to come back in this series. There is always a slim margin for error in a playoff series, and giving away games like this against one of the league’s best teams is only going to make things just that much more difficult. The Islanders now need to win four out of the next five games.
While Kucherov’s goal will be the play that gets the most attention, Tampa Bay’s defense, penalty kill, and starting goalie Andrei Vasilveskiy were all major difference-makers all night.
Vasilievsky was especially important by stopping 27 out of 28 shots, including 13 shots on the penalty kill and a big breakaway save in a 4-on-4 situation.
The Islanders went back to starting goalie Semyon Varlamov for this game after starting Thomas Greiss the past two games. He stopped 19 shots.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (TB leads 2-0)
Game 1: Lightning 8, Islanders 2. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 2, Islanders 1
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
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.