Friday’s New York Islanders-Tampa Bay Lightning game was a potential sneak peek at a first-round playoff matchup.
It was a fast-paced, offensive, back-and-forth thriller, but on this night, the Islanders came out on the wrong end of a 7-4 decision, falling to the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
“We had plenty of chances. You score as many as we did you should probably win the game,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “You have to limit your mistakes and guys have to dig a little bit deeper. Everybody has to be 10 percent better.”
Brock Nelson, Shane Prince, Johnny Boychuk and Nikolay Kulemin had the Islanders in a 4-4 tie in the third period, but the Lightning struck for two goals in 21 seconds with Victor Hedman adding an empty-netter.
The loss didn’t move the Islanders from the first Wild Card berth, but the Lightning reclaimed first place in the Atlantic Division with the win. If the playoffs started tomorrow, these two teams would meet in the opening round.
“It’s embarrassing to give up seven goals at this time of the year when you need points,” Frans Nielsen said. “We need to keep the puck out of our net.”
The pace and offensive output of Friday’s game started from the opening puck drop, as the teams combined for 26 shots and three goals in the first period.
Nelson opened the scoring at 8:54, one-timing a Ryan Strome pass up high on Ben Bishop (22 saves), but in a game filled with scoring chances early, the 1-0 lead was not destined to last long. Tampa Bay responded with two goals in nine seconds; Nikita Kucherov tipping an Alex Killorn shot past Thomas Greiss (34 saves) at 13:42 of the first period, moments before Vladislav Namestnikov one-timed an Islanders’ giveaway top shelf.
The second period was much like the first, the teams re-establishing the pace and hostilities – Anders Lee dumped Anton Stralman in front of the net, knocking the defenseman out of the game – of the opening frame.
Steven Stamkos put the Lightning up 3-1 at 5:02 of the second, but the Islanders answered back 23 seconds later. Shane Prince entered the Lightning zone with speed, looked off the pass on a two-on-one rush and sniped a wicked wrister past Bishop at 5:25.
Down 3-2, Greiss came up with a pivotal stop, getting across on an odd-man rush and robbing Kucherov on the one-timer. Johnny Boychuk tied it up before the end of the period, slapping a bouncing puck past Bishop at 16:18.
The goals-in-bunches theme continued into the third period. Andrei Sustr’s slap shot snuck through traffic and beat Greiss at 6:03, but Nikolay Kulemin responded 19 seconds later, beating Bishop with a mid-range wrister at 6:22.
Tampa Bay took the lead again at 10:09, with Tyler Johnson muscling a loose puck past Josh Bailey and a sprawled out Greiss. The next goal came 23 seconds later, but this time it was not a response by the Islanders. Jason Garrison beat Greiss high, short side at 10:32, giving Tampa Bay a 6-4 lead.
“We battled back to make it 4-4 and then we mismanaged the puck in the neutral zone, they come back and outmuscle us in front of the net,” Capuano said. “That’s the game-winner right there.”
Ryan Pulock had the Islanders’ best chance at a comeback, ripping a blistering slap shot off Bishop’s shoulder, but Hedman’s long-range empty netter sealed the game.
The Islanders now travel to Carolina finishing a back-to-back set against the Hurricanes. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.