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Burns: Three things we learned from evening the series

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been pretty darn unbeatable in Game 2s under head coach Jon Cooper, and that trend continued Saturday against the New York Islanders.

The Lightning played perhaps their most complete game of the postseason in a dominating 4-1 performance at Amalie Arena versus New York in Game 2 of the teams’ Second Round series, the Bolts leveling the series one game apiece before departing for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for Games 3 and 4.

The Lightning improve to 6-1 in Game 2s under Jon Cooper, winning the last six in a row. The Bolts’ only Game 2 loss came in Cooper’s first playoff series as head coach, a 4-0 sweep by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 quarterfinal round.

“Maybe it’s the adjustments, maybe it’s being ready,” said Lightning center Tyler Johnson, who scored two goals in Game 2 and moved into a tie with Brad Richards (18 goals) for third place on the Lightning’s all-time playoff goal leaders list. “You definitely don’t want to go down 2-0. That’s huge.”

The Lightning’s win Saturday was a collective effort. The Bolts got timely scoring from a pair of players who always seem to elevate their game in the postseason in Johnson and Victor Hedman, plus the game-winner from a second-year pro in Jonathan Drouin who is rapidly creating his own playoff legacy.

A hodgepodge blue line that included Slater Koekkoek, making his NHL playoff debut, and Matt Taormina, starting for just the second time in the postseason, limited the Islanders to 20 shots and three in the third period with the Isles’ fighting to get back in the game.

And Ben Bishop recovered from his first poor outing of the playoffs, stopping 19-of-20 shots in the 4-1 victory, improving to 9-2 all-time in the playoffs in games following a loss.

The Lightning have a couple days to rest before hitting the ice for Game 3 in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

What would the Bolts like to carryover from Game 2?

We’ll break down the highlights in today’s 3 Things.

1. THE BOLTS OWN THE THIRD PERIOD

In both games at Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay has controlled the third period. In Game 1, the Lightning outshot the Islanders 17-5 and put Isles goalie Thomas Greiss under continuous pressure. The Isles goalie bent a bit, giving up two goals and letting the Bolts make it a game again late, but didn’t completely break, holding on for the 5-3 win.

Again, in Game 2, the Lightning controlled the puck for nearly the entire period, dictated play throughout the 20-minute stanza and limited the opportunities the Isles’ skilled forward group got on Ben Bishop’s net.

Through two games, the Lightning have outscored New York 3-1 in the final period, the Islanders’ lone score coming on an empty-netter to seal Game 1 with 55 seconds remaining.

“I think we played our best hockey in the last two periods,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said, referring to the second and third periods in Saturday’s game. “…Moving forward, we want to play the same way. We want to play with a lot of speed and getting pucks deep.”

One two-minute stretch in the third highlights the Bolts’ grip on the period. Jonathan Marchessault and Ryan Strome were sent to the box at 6:33 of the period with matching minors, and in the resulting 4-on-4, the Bolts kept the puck buried in the Islanders’ end for the first 1:50, wave after wave of scoring chances pressuring Greiss and keeping the Isles from generating any offensive buildup of their own with the ice opened up.

Once Marchessault and Strome exited the box, the pressure on Greiss’ goal continued, the momentum carrying throughout the remainder of the third.

“I thought the second and third periods we turned it on a little bit and we had some zone time and plenty of opportunities and when we did break down Ben was there,” Cooper said. “ I really liked, as the game progressed, how we played.”

If Tampa Bay’s stranglehold on the third period continues throughout the series, you have to like the Lightning’s chances to advance.

2. JONATHAN DROUIN, THE SLIPPERY FISH

Following Game 2, Jon Cooper was asked to describe the way Jonathan Drouin has played throughout the postseason.

“We use the word slippery,” Cooper responded. “He is slippery. It’s like, if you ever go fishing, you grab the fish with a bare hand, that’s what he’s like out there. He is really hard to defend, especially when there’s, you know, big defensemen in this league, that’s a really hard guy to contain.”

Drouin, it would seem, wasn’t the one that got away.

The second-year pro who was once suspended by the Lightning during the regular season for refusing to play for the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse has become a pivotal piece in the Bolts’ playoff push.

“When he’s cycling the puck and moving down there, he is so shifty, crafty and skilled that you don’t know what he’s going to do,” Cooper continued. “The other thing, he just makes those six-foot passes under pressure on guys’ tape where the whole game has slowed down for him, but it’s buzzing for everybody else and that’s what makes him extremely hard to defend.”

Drouin was a difference maker in Game 2, supplying the game-winning goal when he ducked into the slot while Valtteri Filppula possessed the puck inside the right circle, latched onto Filppula’s superb pass through traffic and backhanded the puck under Greiss in a tight spot to put the Bolts up 2-0.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Drouin, at 21 years, 34 days old, became the youngest Lightning player ever to score a game-winning playoff goal.

The tally was also Drouin’s first of his playoff career, the first of likely many.

“It’s been great to watch him,” Cooper said. “When we you need a big goal, you need those goals to get us going, there he is creating offense and scoring for us.”

Drouin assisted on Victor Hedman’s second-period power-play goal for his sixth helper of the playoffs, ranking tied for third in the league.

“It’s not just that, it’s his play all over the ice,” Cooper added. “He’s competing really hard. He’s been around pro hockey now for a couple of years and he is, he’s a smart player. He understands the game. And you have to be involved in it a little bit to find out what you can do and what you can’t do. He’s found out what he can do and what he can’t do, and it’s been a really, really big lift for us.”

With Steven Stamkos still recovering from surgery, the captain’s absence has left a void in the Lightning attack, one that Drouin is doing his best to fill.

“Ever since he’s been back up here, it’s unbelievable,” Bishop said. “He’s really helped carry this team ever since he’s got up here. You’ve got to respect that. He’s come up with a great attitude, and he’s just going to work. He’s not talking, he’s just going to work and doing his thing. We all knew that he had the skill. It was just a matter of going out and doing it and now he’s kind of coming to work every single day and it’s nice to see a player kind of grow up and mature in front of your eyes in one season.”

3. PLAYING DEFENSE THROUGH OFFENSE

In Game 1, a couple defensive breakdowns led to wide-open chances on the back post for the Islanders Shane Prince, who calmly slotted both opportunities past Ben Bishop to give the Isles a 3-1 lead heading into the first break.

On Saturday, the Lightning didn’t have any notable miscues in the back end.

And that was mainly because the Islanders didn’t have the puck.

“You don’t have to play defense when you’re cycling pucks down low,” Drouin said. “We were happy with that.”

New York had a better-than-average 12 shots in the first period, aided by three-consecutive power plays in the period. But they combined for just eight in the second and third periods as the Lightning clamped down on the Islanders’ danger guys: John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.

That duo had only five shots between them and weren’t allowed to make an impact in the game by a Bolts defense focused on limiting their opportunities.

The 20 shots by New York was a playoff low for a Lightning opponent this season. In two games, the Islanders have recorded just 42 shots.

“We didn’t turn pucks over. We got pucks deep. We possessed the puck more, and the guys did a really good job,” Bishop said. “(The Islanders) didn’t have much, and we were able to capitalize on a few chances.”

Bishop chipped in another outstanding playoff performance, allowing two goals or less for the sixth time in seven postseason starts in 2016. But, really, he wasn’t called upon often because the guys in front of him kept the puck from reaching his net.

“It was a great team effort,” Bishop said. “We didn’t give them too much. I thought we kind of saw what we did wrong the first game and really corrected it this game. We were in control for most of the game.”

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