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Islanders have to raise their play after Game 2 loss

New York manages five shots in final 28 minutes of Game 2 after Lightning get lucky goal

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TAMPA -- Sometimes hockey is a game of inches. Sometimes it is a game of feet.

Take Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. On the power play in the second period, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman took a shot from the point.

The puck was headed wide left, way wide left, several feet wide left, not even close. But it struck the inside of the left foot of Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan and took a right turn into the net. De Haan kicked his foot reflexively. His shoulders drooped.

"That," said Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, who was on the ice at the time, "was as lucky a bounce as I've seen."

That was the turning point of a 4-1 victory for the Lightning that tied the best-of-7 series 1-1. Game 3 is Tuesday at Barclays Center in New York (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm2: Hedman banks puck off de Haan and in

The Islanders had failed to score on two early power plays. Goaltender Thomas Greiss had allowed two goals on the first four shots he had faced, including a softie on the second goal when Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin slipped a backhand shot between his pads.

"It's one of those squeakers," Greiss said. "It happens every once in a while. You don't want to let it in, but it happens."

But the Islanders had done a lot of good things, hemming the Lightning in their zone at the end of the first period, disrupting the Lightning power play so badly they couldn't set up in the second period. They were outshooting the Lightning 15-8 before the fateful power play began 11:11 into the second, and they fell behind 3-1.

They were outshot 22-5 during the rest of the game, including 12-3 in the third period.

"If that doesn't go in off our D," Greiss said, "it makes it a totally different game."

True. But here is the bigger issue for the Islanders: It should have been a totally different game anyway. To lose is one thing. To lose while generating five shots for almost half a game while trailing is another.

When the Lightning faced a 4-1 deficit and goaltender Ben Bishop got pulled halfway through Game 1, they weren't deflated. They weren't defeated. They tried to come back with abandon, attacking, attacking, attacking, and almost pulled it off as the Islanders sat back too much. They outshot the Islanders 17-5 in the third period and cut the deficit to 4-3 before allowing an empty-net goal.

The Islanders will tell you they weren't deflated after the Hedman goal in Game 2, let alone defeated. But did they do enough?

"Obviously no," Hamonic said. "We couldn't mount that comeback. I think we maybe could have tried to get to Bishop a little bit better. That's just everyone getting pucks on net and getting second and third opportunities."

The Lightning are thinned by injuries. There's no Steven Stamkos. No Anton Stralman. No Mike Blunden or J.T. Brown. They didn't have Erik Condra or Matt Carle in Game 2 either. Yet whether they have been ahead or behind, they have gotten better as the games have gone on.

"I've felt we've taken over," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm2: Bishop denies Cizikas in front

Maybe that's because of experience. They went to the Stanley Cup Final last season; the Islanders are in the second round for the first time since 1993. Maybe that's superior skill and depth. Maybe that's Tyler Johnson and company unleashed instead of sitting on the bench during penalty kills.

Maybe that's the Islanders not playing the way they can too.

At their best, the Islanders are fast and physical. They have a mobile defense and a strong forecheck. They have the ability to get the puck up the ice, hold it in the Tampa Bay zone and make the Lightning defend. But to do that, they have to be better in the neutral zone and be more consistent.

"We had spurts," New York defenseman Thomas Hickey said. "Look what we did at the end of the first period. We really had a lot of zone time. It was tough to sustain it. I think we came close a couple times and got some pucks there, but you want to spend more time in their zone."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano was upbeat after the game, crediting the Lightning, praising Bishop. But he knows.

"We've got to get more shots," Capuano said. "I think we've proved that we're a good hockey team when we tilt the ice and we get zone time but we get to the net. Again, Ben [Bishop] played a great game, but we could have challenged him a little bit more."

Capuano laughed when asked about this looking like a long series.

"You think sometimes the series are going to be long, and they end up in five [games]," Capuano said. "You just don't know. The margin for error is so small to win or lose hockey games."

Sometimes it's a game of inches. Sometimes it's a game of feet.

And it's how you react to that.

"We'll respond," Hamonic said. "We have to respond."

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