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Islanders can't afford to let up against Lightning

Third-period fade in Game 1 could have been costly

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TAMPA -- The New York Islanders got away with playing a 40-minute game when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series on Wednesday to take a 1-0 lead. And they know it.

They let a 4-1 lead slip to 4-3 in the third period, when they were outshot 17-5. If not for goaltender Thomas Greiss, they might have lost.

What lesson will they take into Game 2 on Saturday at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports)?

"Just to not sit back and just continue to play our game," defenseman Johnny Boychuk said Thursday. "We sat back a little in the third and they got speed through the neutral zone, and they kind of took it to us. But if we didn't sit back, it would have been an easier game for us."

The Islanders were aggressive the first two periods, moving the puck up the ice when they had it, disrupting the Lightning in the neutral zone when they didn't. They pressured the Lightning and took the body.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Kucherov buries a great find from Palat

But after they took the 4-1 lead, they let up. Captain John Tavares and defenseman Travis Hamonic wrote it off to "human nature," but they have to anticipate that and guard against it, especially against a team with an offense as potent and a defense as active as the Lightning's.

"Is it something that we didn't do? Maybe," coach Jack Capuano said. "But give them credit for how they made the push. There are certain areas of our game going back and watching that third that we have to be better at, too.

"Any time that we break down structurally in our system in what we need to do … I thought we got away from the body a little bit, too. For whatever reason, the physicality of our game was not consistent. That can't happen against a good team. If you're going to give them time and space, they're going to get their chances."

Rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, continues to skate and could return relatively soon.

"I think he's getting closer," Capuano said. "I don't know if he'd be ready Game 2, but maybe after that. I don't know. I'll talk to the trainers. We would consider lineup changes for sure at some point."

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Clutterbuck seals win with empty-netter

Pulock has a goal and two assists in four games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had two goals and two assists in 15 regular-season games. 

"Ryan's a big guy," Capuano said. "He's a right shot and helps our power play. And if you ever get into that situation 4-on-3 and 5-on-3, he possesses a big shot, too. So there's no doubt that as we move forward here and he gets healthy, we're going to have some tough decisions to make."

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