With house money already pocketed after winning Game 1 of their Stanley Cup semifinal, the Islanders had a chance to break the bank on Tuesday by taking a 2-0 series lead on the road against the defending champions. But Game 2 got away from them late in the second period when the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat broke a 1-1 tie while half the Tampa lineup seemed to be on the ice behind Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who set up the goal.
A fairly obvious too-many-men penalty was missed by referees Dan O’Rourke and Francois St. Laurent, as well as linesmen Ryan Gibbons and Michel Cormier. Naturally, New York coach Barry Trotz was furious at the non-call after reviewing the play on his iPad.
The Islanders weren’t the same team after the goal at 13:15 of the middle frame. Lightning defenceman Jan Rutta, who had been pointless in the National Hockey League playoffs and hadn’t scored a goal of any kind in 19 months, took advantage of a failed clear by Anthony Beauvillier to make it 3-1 2:16 into the third period and the Islanders unsuccessfully chased the game from there before losing 4-2.
“We knew a very good hockey team (in Tampa) was going to have a very desperate push, and I really felt we were in good shape,” Trotz said of the first two periods. “The second goal, that one hurt quite a bit because now if they get the third one, there's a little bit more separation. Obviously, you guys know there were too many men on the ice; they had seven guys. I'm disappointed at that.”
He should be. Nobody wants a blown call to affect a playoff game. But the Lightning overcame an equally poor rules interpretation in the first period when O’Rourke penalized Brayden Point for goalie interference when the Tampa star was shoved into Semyon Varlamov by New York defenceman Adam Pelech. Islander Brock Nelson tied the game on the ensuing power play.
It’s the NHL; stuff happens. A lot of the stuff comes from officiating a game that is adjudicated almost entirely in shades of grey even if the rulebook is printed in black and white.
The Lightning got back to their A-game after the Nelson goal. The Islanders couldn’t recover after Palat scored.
“Bounces, breaks, whatever it may be,” Nelson said, “they were able to get a couple and get the lead and we weren't able to get it back.”
DID NEW YORK LOSE PAGEAU, TOO?
It got about as much attention in the Islanders’ post-game press conferences as backup goalie Ilya Sorokin’s seven-minute relief appearance in the first period, but outstanding two-way centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau played only four shifts in the second period and three in the third -- and not at all in the final 13:32.
The Islanders’ leading post-season scorer and arguably their best player in the playoffs, Pageau laboured off the ice late in the first period after accelerating to reach a lead pass from Travis Zajac on a shorthanded rush. The matchup centre appeared to be favouring his left side, possibly due to a groin injury.
Any Pageau injury could be a series-changer, especially as the teams head to Long Island where Trotz would likely exercise his last change by matching Pageau and wingers Zajac and Kyle Palmieri against Kucherov’s line.
“He just tweaked something,” Trotz insisted. “So when they got their fourth goal, I basically just said, you know what, he's going to be fine for the rest of the series, I'm not going to put him in any more danger. I expect him fully to be in the next game.”
Pageau was struggling even before his penalty-killing shift late in the first period. He was uncharacteristically demolished in his five-on-five matchup against Yanni Gourde’s line. Shot attempts were 10-1 for the Lightning when Pageau, Zajac and Palmieri were on the ice.
MAKING IT A STREET FIGHT
There were 54 minutes in penalties and a noticeable uptick of hostility between players after the Islanders took the series opener 2-1 on Sunday, where the teams combined for just 14 penalty minutes.
A game filled with power plays is always going to favour the Lightning and their offensive wizards. But the Islanders’ ability to engage Lightning players after the whistle, roughing and wrestling them, isn’t a bad strategy as long as New York isn’t putting itself shorthanded. Tampa is willing to battle, but does it really help the Lightning if Kucherov, Palat, Point, Gourde and Steven Stamkos are getting into scrums after the whistle?
“Stuff after the whistle doesn't really matter that much,” Islanders defenceman Scott Mayfield said. “We both have veteran teams. We're not going to let that change how we play (and) I don't think that's going to change how they play that much. The physical play... during the actual play is good for us. I think that's part of our identity. But they do it, too. I mean, they have a really good team over there.”
New York battering ram Matt Martin said: “I think that's just playoff hockey in general. They're not just going to let us take it from them. As playoff series go on, and you keep seeing the same faces over and over again, things get a little more chippy every night.”
ISLES NEED TO BE BETTER
The Islanders didn’t have the top stars in their earlier playoff matchups against the David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand Boston Bruins and Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, but won both series because New York had the best team.
Their puck-management was unusually wonky in Game 2 and so was their defending. On Palat’s critical goal, for instance, Islanders centre Mathew Barzal was as culpable as the referees for taking his eye off Palat to help defenceman Nick Leddy defend Kucherov.
“A little bit of a read there,” Trotz said when asked about the play. “Obviously, Kucherov... bought himself some time. Usually, you have to be aware though. A little bit of a bad read. Mat thought he could disrupt the play a little bit. That's what happens when you have to make quick decisions, and once you commit to it, it's hard to back out of it.
“From my standpoint, we can be a lot better, and we will be.”