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Nikita Kucherov Buzzer Beater Wins Tampa Bay Lightning Game 2 of Eastern Conference Final

Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is congratulated by his teammates Ondrej Palat and Barclay Goodrow after scoring a goal in the final seconds of the third period against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final

Great teams find ways to win, and the Tampa Bay Lightning showed why they have something special in Game 2. With the clock ticking down and overtime looming, Nikita Kucherov had other plans and fired home a cross-ice pass from Ryan McDonagh to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead with 7.8 seconds left.

Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final was a contest the Lightning nearly gift-wrapped to the New York Islanders, but it’s now a 2-0 Tampa Bay series lead. It’s scary how the Bolts can go from scoring eight goals and blowing a team out of the water, to recorded 21 shots and getting the same end result.

Nikita Kucherov Wins Tampa Bay Lightning Game 2

Arguably the biggest story Wednesday was Lightning forward Brayden Point leaving in the second period with an injury. Point entered Monday’s game second in the NHL with 23 postseason points, so any extended time the 24-year-old misses will leave a massive hole in the Lightning’s lineup. Jon Cooper had also been dressing 11 forwards and seven defencemen for all of Tampa Bay’s five-game win streak. When Point went down, the Bolts were down to nine forwards as Alex Killorn received a five-minute major and game misconduct 5:55 into the first.

Isles head coach Barry Trotz gave the crease back to Semyon Varlamov after he was benched in favour of Thomas Greiss the last two games. Varlamov had a combined .840 save percentage in his last three games, but after Greiss let in three goals on six shots in Game 1, Trotz’s move made sense.

Islanders Fail to Capitalize Early

While New York did grab a 1-0 lead just 1:24 in off of Matt Martin‘s fifth of the postseason, the first frame came down to a missed opportunity. Tampa Bay had a rare, vulnerable moment when Killorn delivered a nasty hit to Brock Nelson‘s numbers, earning the former his five and a game. New York failed to convert on five minutes of power-play time, keeping the Bolts within one. And when you fail to put away teams like the Lightning, it’s usually going to come back to bite you.

The Islanders’ first period went down the drain once an ice burner from Victor Hedman squeezed by a screen in front and past Varlamov’s pad. Despite generating four shots and limited pressure, Tampa Bay hung around in the first. A tie after 20 minutes was all they could’ve asked for after Killorn’s major.

Physical Play Ramped up

There was definitely an added edge to Game 2 after a barn burner in the series-opener Monday. Martin, one of New York’s grinders, seemed to be in the centre of all the rough stuff in Game 2. He scrapped Luke Schenn in the second period, and Tampa Bay continued to linger toward Martin throughout the second half of the game — during play and after the whistle.

Another key sequence came later in the second, seconds after Nelson returned to the ice after missing nearly a period. Barclay Goodrow made a light hit on Nelson, but then gave what looked like an intentional cross-check to the back of Nelson’s head. Nelson even stepping back on the ice seemed questionable given the impact his head took to the boards from the Killorn hit, and the Goodrow shot definitely didn’t do him any favours. The game finished with a combined 97 hits.

Lightning can Play Defence too

New York went zero for four on their power-play chances, registering 28 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy. With thirteen of those shorthanded saves, Vasilevskiy came to play when his team needed him first. Hedman led the Bolts’ penalty kill, but it was many others who came up huge whether it was a blocked shot or a timely stick breaking up a play. Some label Tampa Bay strictly as an offensive juggernaut, but Wednesday showed they can step up defensively. Tampa Bay was averaging just 2.29 goals against per postseason game going into Game 2, and that number’s dropping after allowing a single goal Wednesday.

What This Means

It’s now Tampa Bay’s series to lose. The Lightning go into Game 3 just two games away from the Stanley Cup final. It’s tough to see a team as dominant as the Tampa Bay Lightning losing next four of their next six games, but it’s the task the New York Islanders face after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. On top of Varlamov in net, Trotz did some more lineup juggling Wednesday. Cal Clutterbuck replaced Ross Johnston, but the more surprising move was Andrew Ladd in for Derick Brassard. Ladd played solid in 11:50 of ice time, but moving forward Brassard brings more offence with eight points in 14 games.

Tampa Bay’s Game 3 lineup should be just as interesting. Point’s status is in the air, and it’d be wise to guess Killorn will be handed a suspension of some sort. But if anything came out of Game 2, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning are a team on a mission.

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