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5 Keys: Lightning at Islanders, Game 4

Ignoring matchups, return of New York's Pulock could tip scales

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning play Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series Friday at Barclays Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 4:

1. BE BETTER THAN YOUR BEST

The Islanders felt they played their best game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 3, re-establishing their identity by throwing hits, generating traffic in front and getting pucks to the net. But they blew three leads and lost 5-4 in overtime. They feel they have to manage the puck better against a skilled, explosive opponent.

"They're the kind of team that can create a scoring chance out of almost nothing," Islanders center Frans Nielsen said Friday. "So you really have to do all the little things; good sticks, be on the right side of the guys. Every time there's a shot you help out on rebounds. … We played a great game, and we've just got to come out with the same effort and be a little better if we can. That's all we can do."

2. TIGHTEN UP DEFENSIVELY

Neither team was happy with the goals allowed in Game 3. The Lightning had allowed eight goals in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Detroit Red Wings and never more than two goals in a game. Against the Islanders they have allowed 10 goals in three games and twice have allowed four goals, not including empty-netters.

"I really liked the way we responded when things weren't going our way [in Game 3], especially coming back from being down three different times," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Thursday. "Can't sit here and say I particularly liked the way we played, though, especially in the first period [when outshot 17-9]. We gave up way too many scoring chances. I don't want to nitpick our team, but we've got better in us."

Cooper dressed seven defensemen in Game 3. But Matthew Carle appears ready to return after missing two games because of an injury. He could play on the top pair with Victor Hedman, which would help slot the other two pairs, which could be Jason Garrison with Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn with perhaps Slater Koekkoek.

Video: TBL@NJD: Carle pushes lead to four in the 3rd period

3. FORGET IT

With the last change at home in Game 3, Islanders coach Jack Capuano was able to keep captain John Tavares away from Hedman for the most part. The result? Tavares had zero points and Hedman had a goal and two assists. After he had six goals and five assists in the Islanders' first seven playoff games, Tavares has gone back-to-back games without a point. For Game 4 Capuano might forget matchups and send Tavares right at Hedman while rolling four lines.

"You've either got a guy who spends a lot of time in the offensive zone [in Tavares], or you worry about your matchups," Capuano said Thursday. "We've had a real successful team the last three, four years on the road because we don't worry about the matchups there. We've been a four-line team, and I'm not that worried about [Hedman against Tavares]. We tried to stay away from it a lot of the game and we lost the game."

4. TAKE YOUR SHOT

Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock appears ready to return after missing six games because of an injury. His hard, heavy point shot could improve the power play, which has scored a goal in each game and gone 3-for-13 in the series. The Lightning's penalty killers are excellent lane-cloggers and shot-blockers, but Pulock was able to study them from afar while out. He could exploit tendencies or keep it simple, blast away and make them think twice about putting their bodies in front of his shots.

"For me, it's just find those angles where there is that lane," Pulock said. "Sometimes if you can just let it go too, if they're going to block it, they're going to block it. But they might be there the next time, right?"

If Pulock forces the Lightning to respect his shot, that opens up other plays.

5. PUT THEM ON THE ROPES

After the teams split the first two games reporters talked about expecting a long series. But Capuano said the games could be close and the series still could end in five games. Game 4 is a swing game. If the Islanders win they will assure the series will go at least six. If the Lightning win they will have a 3-1 lead going home and a chance to end it in five and advance to the Eastern Conference Final in 10 games, saving wear and tear.

"You've got a 3-1 lead or a 2-2 going back home, so this is obviously a huge game for us," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said Thursday. "We've given ourselves an opportunity to go into this Game 4 and try to take the lead and go home with it. The series is a long way from over, but this next game's a big one."

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