The New York Islanders are one of the top defensive teams in the league. A significant part of their success is related to how well they defend in their own zone. They protect the front of the net, block a lot of shots, and box out opposition players to limit potential rebound shots. A big key to the Lightning's victory tonight was they delivered a similarly excellent defensive performance. As a result, it was a game that didn't feature many scoring chances. But the Lightning cashed in on two of theirs - and those goals proved to be the difference.
Both teams enjoyed long segments when they dominated puck possession. They gained that advantage by forechecking effectively, forcing turnovers in the offensive zone, and maintaining possession once they got it. The Lightning controlled the first. The Islanders held an advantage in the second. In the third period, the Lightning dictated play up until the Isles scored their power play goal at 12:12, which cut the Lightning lead to 2-1. Then New York applied pressure until Steven Stamkos sealed the win with an empty-netter at 18:58.
On this night, however, a puck possession advantage didn't translate to scoring chances. That's due to the aforementioned tight defensive work from both sides. In their strong first period, the Lightning managed only 10 shots. The Isles, despite owning most of the possession time in the second, recorded just five shots. New York posted only three third period shots prior to Stamkos' empty-netter (the Islanders registered two more in the final minute).
In the end, the Lightning held New York to only 18 shots on goal for the game. Tampa Bay blocked 17 other attempts. The Lightning made several key defensive plays without the puck, including Anthony Cirelli's second period takeaway from Mat Barzal when the Islander forward was skating in on a breakaway. Also in the second, Carter Verhaeghe prevented a two-on-zero rush when he disrupted a play in the neutral zone after the Lightning lost the puck while attempting to change defensemen.
The Lightning capitalized on two New York breakdowns for goals. Early in the second period, Nikita Kucherov collected a puck in the defensive zone after Ryan Pulock's point shot missed the net. Brayden Point darted out of the zone before Pulock could react. Kucherov set up Point on a breakaway. With Pulock closing on him, Point ripped a slapshot from the slot into the net. In the third period, Verhaeghe grabbed the puck in the left corner of the offensive zone. He began skating behind the net, but a lane was left open to the front of the goal. He angled into the low slot and finished his shot, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal at 6:25 of the third.
This was another impressive win for the Lightning against an excellent opponent. They should expect another tough matchup on Monday when they visit Columbus, which also ranks among the league's best defensive teams.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Brayden Point - Lightning. Goal and assist.
- Carter Verhaeghe - Lightning. GWG.
- Nick Leddy - Islanders.