It was a flash of déjà vu for the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning as the two teams went head-to-head in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning, looking to get one step closer to defending their title, came in as heavy favourites. But it was the Islanders who came out on top in this game, led by another strong performance from Mathew Barzal. With their 2-1 defeat of Tampa Bay, they jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the series.
Mathew Barzal Sparks Islanders Offence
Mathew Barzal Continues to Heat Up
The New York Islanders rely heavily on star centre Mathew Barzal to generate offence. He started the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a quiet note, remaining goalless through the first eight games. But he began to find his form against the Boston Bruins, recording three goals and six total points through the Islanders’ second-round series. In this game, he continued to make his mark.
Barzal opened the scoring in the second period. Fresh off the bench, he used his preeminent speed to start on a breakaway into Tampa’s zone, slipping the puck through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to score the Islanders first goal. And even after his goal, Barzal continued to be productive. He came dangerously close to scoring again, stopped only by a timely check from Pat Maroon. Overall, Barzal’s aggressive play in this game was a huge boon for the often offensively challenged Islanders.
Goaltending Key in Close Game
Semyon Varlamov continued to man the Islanders’ net in Game 1, while Andrei Vasilevskiy backstopped the Lightning as usual. Prior to this game, Varlamov had not played for three days. Vasilevskiy came in even colder off a four-day break. However, neither goaltender showed any signs of rust. Tampa Bay was tested in the first period, forcing Vasilevskiy to stop a flurry of dangerous net-front chances from Kyle Palmieri. Varlamov, too, was excellent, fending off Brayden Point on a breakaway and shutting down several shorthanded chances.
In the second frame, it was Vasilevskiy’s turn to face a few breakaways. He deflected a shot from Josh Bailey up and out of play. Later, after a sloppy turnover from Point, Vasilevskiy swallowed up Anthony Beauvillier’s subsequent try as well. But after facing and stopping 20 shots, the Lightning netminder finally folded, allowing Mathew Barzal to slip the puck into the net.
Vasilevskiy gave up another goal halfway through the third on a blast from Ryan Pulock. It was an uncharacteristic mistake that the Lightning goaltender couldn’t afford to make at that point. Though Varlamov let in a goal as well during the final minute, it was the only one he would allow in the entire game. Both goaltenders ended with excellent save percentages: Vasilevskiy at .935 and Varlamov at .968.
Power Play Difficulties
Both teams were busy on the power play, as a total of five penalties were called. The initial three man-advantages went to the Islanders, who failed to score on any of them. Of those, the first was by far the worst for New York. They recorded no shots on goal while allowing a couple of dangerous shorthanded chances from Jan Rutta and Blake Coleman. The Islander second and third power plays were slightly more productive but ended with the same result as the first. The Lightning penalty kill was just too solid. They were quick to clear the zone, and with the help of Vasilevskiy’s solid presence in the net, they continued to shut down the Islanders’ power play with ease.
At the end of the second period, an interference penalty from Palmieri gave the Lightning their first man advantage. Interestingly, Tampa Bay, too, struggled on the power play. They looked slow off the bat in the third period and subsequently let Jean-Gabriel Pageau break out on a shorthanded rush. That power play was the perfect opportunity for the Lightning to get themselves back into the game, but they seemed too passive to take advantage of it.
Things changed quickly for the Lightning in their second power play. Brock Nelson went to the box for high-sticking, and Point took advantage of a scrum at the net to flip the puck over Varlamov’s shoulder and into the net. In the end, though, Tampa Bay was unable to score again, and the Islanders held on to get the win.
In all, the Islanders played an excellent game. They generated just enough offence to outlast the Lightning and then stuck to their signature defensive system to protect the lead. For Tampa Bay, though, this game did not go at all as planned. At times, they looked lackadaisical, and though they improved greatly at the end of the third, they were unable to put together a full 60-minute effort. The Islanders should take pride in their tenacious performance – they earned the win today. But the Lightning need to come out with a lot more intensity next time if they want to stay in this series.