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Islanders happy, not satisfied, after Game 1 win

New York has to keep foot on the gas because Lightning can be better

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TAMPA -- John Tavares tied the game late in the third period and scored the winner in double overtime, lifting the New York Islanders to their first series victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993. It meant so much to him after seven seasons of striving. It meant so much to the fans who had suffered so long.

But that was Sunday, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers.

"That," Tavares said, "is not the end goal."

The Islanders are not satisfied to be a nice little story this season; it showed Wednesday, when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series.

They scored four goals on Ben Bishop and watched him get yanked on the day he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist, after he allowed no more than two goals in a game in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings. They withstood a furious Tampa Bay comeback attempt in the third period thanks to their own goalie, Thomas Greiss. Their coach took a puck in the face in the third and left the bench, but he came back for the finish.

At their best, they showed their strengths: speed, physicality, depth, a mobile defense, a hot goaltender. They are a different opponent than the one the Lightning defeated in five games in the first round: the Detroit Red Wings. They are harder to play against.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Prince finishes both of Strome's feeds

At their worst, they sat back too much with the lead, a huge risk against a team as explosive as Tampa Bay. But they learned their lesson early in the series without losing.

"Just be aggressive," Tavares said. "I thought we had some really good jump tonight, making plays. The way were just rolling our lines over and over, keeping our shifts short and playing hard and making it tough on them. Obviously would like to sustain it a little longer."

One narrative is that the Lightning were rusty while the Islanders were sharp, because the Lightning had been off since Thursday. There might be some truth to that. The Lightning were sloppy, at least until the score became lopsided. But the Islanders had a lot to do with it, and it might have worked the other way in the third period.

"They had a little more left in the tank than us," Greiss said.

Another narrative is that the Lightning were unlucky and the game was relatively close. The shots were 19-17 Tampa Bay through two periods, even though New York had a 4-1 lead. "It was just one of those nights were pucks had eyes," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said the same thing.

"You need some puck luck in this game if you're going to win," Capuano said, "and we had that."

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Capuano leaves bench after hit by puck

Yes and no, though.

The puck had eyes on New York's first goal. Defenseman Travis Hamonic whipped it off the right-wing boards. It knuckled through the air and dipped like a Phil Niekro pitch, slipping between Bishop's pads and trickling into the net. It looked to the naked eye like it had been deflected by Kyle Okposo, but it hadn't been.

The next two Islanders goals were the result of breakdowns that were committed by Tampa Bay or forced by New York, depending on your perspective. Both times, rookie forward Shane Prince eluded the defense and slapped in a pass. His second goal was particularly deflating. Bishop was hugging the left post playing for a wraparound and was too deep in his net when Prince's shot whizzed into the space he left on the right side. That gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead with 2.1 seconds left in the first period.

The fourth Islanders goal was a world-class shot by a world-class player. Tavares picked the upper left corner on the rush for his third goal in two games and sixth of the playoffs. Maybe Bishop could have cut down the angle better, but the Lightning needed to prevent Tavares from being in position to shoot the puck like that in the first place.

Don't forget that the Islanders also hit two posts when the score was 4-1. Did the puck have eyes then?

For much of the first two periods, the Islanders defense moved the puck up ice, and the forwards kept the Lightning on their heels. The line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, which produced 10 goals in the first round, wasn't that dangerous.

"We just want to make them play without the puck, make them have to come 200 feet, come through us, and obviously wear them down with our ability to protect the puck," Tavares said. "And I think we've got a pretty quick team too. Make some plays when they're there and get some pucks to the net, get bodies to the net and make it tough on them."

Everything changed in the third. Kucherov and Valtteri Filppula scored, and it would have been worse for the Islanders if not for Greiss, who made three big saves in quick succession; right pad on a Kucherov wraparound, right pad on a Jonathan Drouin one-timer in tight, blocker on a Nikita Nesterov shot from the side. The Lightning outshot the Islanders 17-5 in the third in a classic case of score effects.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Greiss denies Kucherov on wrap-around

"It's probably human nature," Hamonic said. "Whether it's now or Game 10 in October, I think your first reaction when you have a lead is try to hold down the fort. Sometimes that turns around to play against you there. Part of the reason why, especially early in the game, we were so successful is that we just kept coming. We were coming at them and coming, every line."

Bottom line: The Islanders need to keep coming, because the Lightning can be better. Winning Game 1 was nice. But that is not the end goal.

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