Nikita Kucherov and Tampa Bay Lightning Top Line Even The Series Against The Islanders

Nikita Kucherov

The Tampa Bay Lightning have evened the series with the New York Islanders after a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on Tuesday night. The Lightning were led by their big guns of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point. Not to mention, the Lightning leaned heavily on Andrei Vasilevskiy to make the key saves at the right time to give his team a chance to win the game. Tampa Bay’s speed game was on display against the Islanders neutral zone.

But the Lightning found their legs in Game 2 making crisp tape to tape passes finding players in stride. With the game tied at 1-1, Palat received a beautiful feed from Kucherov to make it 2-1. The Lightning made it 3-1 from a goal from Jan Rutta at the beginning of the third period. And got an insurance goal by Victor Hedman to make it 4-1. That is all the Lightning needed in a dominant performance. The Islanders got a goal late in the third period to make it the final score 4-2.

Nikita Kucherov and Lightning Top Line Too Much For New York

The speed of the Lightning was on display especially their top line against their Islanders aggressive stifling defence. You could see it the way the top line of the Lightning were moving the puck through the neutral zone. And it all started on the back end with the Lightning defence. Instead of being stopped at their own defensive blue line, the Lightning used their speed to break out of their zone to hit players in stride. Early on in the first period, Ryan McDonagh hit Anthony Cirelli in stride as he got behind the Islanders defence. Unfortunately for Cirelli, he lost the puck. However, in the second period with the game tied at 1-1, Nikita Kucherov showed why he so deadly with the puck.

Kucherov moved into the Islanders zone with the puck on his stick. He was able to draw two Islanders defenders towards him. In Game 1, the Islanders stuck to their system, but the Lightning speed in Game 2 forced the Islanders to deviate from their system. With Kucherov slowing the play down this allowed Palat to enter the slot, receive the puck from Nikita Kucherov and fire it past Semyon Varlamov. It was just a dominant display by the Lightning as they got back to playing their style.

Physical Play Set The Tone

The story of Game 2 at least early on with the physical play of both the Islanders and Lightning. It did not take long for these two teams to renew unpleasantries. The fourth lines of each team were throwing their weight around. Especially after each whistle. Both teams knew entering Game 2 that this would be a different type of game. Ice would be hard to come by and play would not be as wide open as it was in Game 1. While there was some physicality in Game 1, once the puck dropped on Game 2 it was taken to the next level. The best example of this is the altercations between Pat Maroon and Matt Martin. Midway through period one, the two players were squaring up to fight after Scott Mayfield rode Maroon hard into the boards causing a big scrum.

However, later on, Martin and Maroon were able to fight feeding off the crowd inside the Amalie Arena. During that fight, Casey Cizikas and Ross Colton also fought. The physical play was not contained just to the fourth line. Every line was getting into the physical play. It is expected this time of year. Even though these two teams did not meet this regular season, they have a history dating back to last year’s playoffs.

However, the biggest play of the night was when Adam Pelech shoved Brayden Point into Varlamov knocking him out of the game. A pile of players gathered after that play. Even though Point received a penalty on the play, it was Pelech who caused the injury to his goalie. Enter Ilya Sorokin, who had not seen game action since Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in Round 2.

Special Teams Continue to Dominate

The Islanders were flirting with danger in Game 1 with the Lightning power play. Towards the end of game one with the extra attacker, Point cut the Islanders lead from 2-0 to 2-1 and that is how Game 1 finished. After a fierce start to Game 2, the Lightning made the Islanders pay for their mistakes. Again it was Point, who recorded his 24th goal in his 36th playoff game.  Point scored in the same spot he did at the end of Game 1. Brayden Point was assisted by Nikita Kucherov on the play. Kucherov leads all players in the playoffs with 20 points. Those two along with Steven Stamkos are what makes that Lightning power play so deadly.

However, the Islanders power play needs to be respected as well. After the controversial call on point, Brock Nelson tied the game at 1-1 in the first period. The Islanders were swarming on their previous power play as Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac had chances to score, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was equal to the task. The Islanders power play has been rolling ever since Game 5 of the previous series. While the Islanders are a defence-first team, they wait for their mistakes and capitalize as they did on this power-play opportunity.

And after the Islanders killed off two straight kills, where they were very aggressive against the Lightning power play, the Lightning struck again to make it 4-1. The Lightning’s speed was just too much for the Islanders in the third period. Give credit to Jon Cooper for making adjustments and instead of always going to Stamkos and Kucherov, he gave the Islanders different looks. Which allowed them to breakthrough. This time it was Victor Hedman. Again Kucherov was involved in the play recording his third assist of the night.

Going Forward

As the series shifts back to Long Island for Games 3 and 4, the Islanders have to stay out of the penalty box and get back to playing their style. It is now the Islanders turn to make adjustments just like the Lightning did after Game 1. It will be interesting to see if the Islanders make a goalie change considering Varlamov left the game and came back. Sorokin stopped every shot he faced. You have to wonder if an injury played a role in some of the goals he let in.

Note: The Lightning are now 11-0 following a loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This dates back to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In addition, the Lightning defence finally broke. They got two goals from their defence in the victory. Mathew Barzal now has goals in five of his last six games.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images