Another round, and another highly skilled opponent for the New York Islanders to frustrate.
The Islanders were 2-1 winners in Game 1 of their semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon, taking a 1-0 series lead and getting one step closer to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in more than 35 years.
Ryan Pulock‘s goal with 14 minutes to play in the third period proved to be the game-winner.
This win looked like all of the other wins this postseason from the Islanders.
They took a talented opponent full of star power, slowed it down, frustrated it, and capitalized on their opportunities. They have been doing it all postseason, and they seem to have perfected their unique style.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
The only thing that made Sunday’s game just a little different than a lot of their other wins this postseason, though, is they not only kept the Lightning off the scoreboard, they also completely shut them down from a shots and shot attempts perspective for most of the game. Normally the Islanders tend to be a team that gives up a fair number of shots and chances and relies on goaltending and keeping the play to the perimeter of the defensive zone. It was not until the final three minutes of the game, when they were down by a pair of goals, that the Lightning started to generate more pressure.
Semyon Varlamov stopped all but one of the 31 shots on goal he faced, with the only goal coming with less than a minute to play in regulation.
It was also relatively unfamiliar territory for the Lightning this postseason as they spent the second half of the game trying to play catch up, trailing for more than 27 minutes.
They only trailed for 20 minutes in their entire Second Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Lightning trailed for only 20:17 during the entire Carolina series.
Lightning trailed for 27:28 in game one vs Islanders
— David Amber (@DavidAmber) June 13, 2021
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
But the other big story on Sunday is the continued hot streak of Islanders star forward Mathew Barzal.
He opened the scoring midway through the second period with his fourth goal in the past five games. It all happened after Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos gave the puck away to Josh Bailey, who then found Barzal up the ice with a perfect stretch pass to send him in on a partial breakaway where he would beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Barzal opened the postseason with zero goals in his first eight games, recording just three assists during that time. But because the Islanders were able to keep winning, it bought Barzal more time to bust out of his scoring slump and he has done so at the perfect time for the Islanders. Along with the four goals, he has seven total points in his past six games. Even the best players are prone to hot streaks and cold streaks. You never want to get too down on your team’s stars when they go a few games without scoring a goal because it is only a matter of time until they put together a stretch like this.
This is already a big improvement for the Islanders from their semifinal matchup a year ago. In that matchup the Lightning took a 2-0 series lead by outscoring them by a 10-3 margin, including an 8-2 win in Game 1 of the series.
ISLANDERS VS. LIGHTNING – series livestream link
Game 1: Sun. June 13: Islanders 2, Lightning 1
Game 2: Tues. June 15: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Thurs. June 17: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network)
*Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.