Nikita Kucherov‘s winning goal with 7.8 seconds left in Game 2 was a bigger gut punch to the Islanders than the Lightning’s 8-2 rout in the series opener. New York got back to their game, received a strong performance in goal from Semyon Varlamov, but wasted too many opportunities. The failed five-minute power play. Zero shots during a short 5-on-3 advantage.
Despite a forgettable final 30 seconds, the positives outweigh the negatives for Barry Trotz coming out of Game 2.
“I just feel like this series is real close to flipping here,” the Islanders head coach said. “Our game is back to where it should be. There’s a couple of areas that we know we can be a little bit better in, and if we are it could be the difference.”
New York has now lost four of their last five games. Prior to Game 6 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia, they hadn’t lost consecutive games all postseason.
Trotz understands playoff adversity. In his final season in Washington, the Capitals trailed in every series — including losing three in a row to the Lightning — before capturing the 2017-18 Stanley Cup. The road through four playoff rounds is never easy, and if the Islanders are to have championship dreams, they’ll have to win five of them.
“It’s just focusing on be in the moment, and the guys are,” Trotz said. “This group is, you talk about character and resiliency and all that, we’re into our fourth series; not our third series, our fourth. The mental grind and the amount of the effort they’ve had to put forward, it’s tremendous. They’re not scared of the work, they’re not scared of the battle, they’re not scared of the challenge.
“To me, we’ll leave it all on the line, and if it’s not good enough, so be it. But we’re going to walk away from this series no matter what with our best effort.”
Through two games the Islanders know there’s no reason to allow doubt to slip into their minds. They shook off an ugly Game 1 and improved in Game 2, giving themselves a chance at evening the series before Kucherov’s late goal. It’s an uphill battle against a Lightning team that’s made them work for everything.
New York has three goals in two games, which is not enough to keep up with a Tampa team featuring so many weapons. There were good things to take out of Game 2, but time is running out.
“We believe in ourselves, in this group,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “The first two games haven’t gone the way that we wanted to, but I think we have a lot to build on from Game 2. We like the way that we played, and if we can build off that and continue to play better as a team, we believe in ourselves to do the right things. None of that’s left our room, that’s for sure.”
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 (recap)
Game 3: Friday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m. ET – USA Network (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