Islanders Take Early Series Lead On Lightning

TAMPA – The Lightning were sloppy at times and paid the price in coming up on the short end of a 2-1 decision in Game 1 of their semifinal round with the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena on Sunday.

Game 2 is Tuesday night at 8:00.

The Lightning were not nearly as crisp as they were in the first two rounds. Alex Killorn noted how much different the Islanders defense plays from that of Carolina, who the Lightning defeated in five games in the second round.

As such, Killorn indicated the Lightning need to make better decisions when attempting to penetrate the Isles’ zone.

“We need to understand when to hold on to it and when to chip it in and go for it,” he said. “There were some things we can take advantage of when we get in the zone in terms of our attack.” 

There was not much to take advantage of Sunday. Meanwhile, the Islanders got goals from Matthew Barzal at 12:32 of the second period and Ryan Pulock at 5:36 of the third to take a 2-0 lead.

The Lightning made it exciting in the game’s final minute. While on the powerplay and with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled, Brayden Point put one past Semyon Varlamov at 19:06.

They pressed to get the equalizer and force overtime, but the Islanders, Tampa Bay’s semifinal opponent in the Edmonton bubble last summer, were able to hold on.

“We knew it would be tough and we have been in this position before,” said Steven Stamkos. “There is no panic in this room.”

There should not be any panic. After all, it is only one game and the team’s veteran core won the Stanley Cup together all of eight months ago. They also know how to adjust from one game to the next.

What was not to coach Jon Cooper’s liking, however, was the mental aspect of Sunday’s game.

“Our work effort was there and our compete was there,” he said. “Our minds were not there. Some of our decisions were off.”

One such occasion led to Barzal’s goal. As he was skating off the ice at the end of a shift, Stamkos put the puck on the stick of Josh Bailey while attempting to connect with Anthony Cirelli.

Bailey then sent a pass through the neutral zone and connected with Barzal, who got behind Jan Rutta, broke in on Andrei Vasilevskiy and slid the puck between the goalie’s pads.

“I need to be better in that situation,” said Stamkos. “I think our team realizes how patient we are going to have to be. It could be one play, one bounce out there.”

Bailey had an exceptional opportunity to get on the board a few minutes earlier when, off an Erik Cernak turnover, he skated in on Vasilevskiy and clanked a backhander off the crossbar.

After the Lightning failed to get out of their zone, Pulock made it 2-0 when his blast from inside the blue line beat Vasilevskiy.

“We just have to stick with the gameplan,” said Stamkos, who along with Nikita Kucherov had only one shot on goal. “(The series) is going to go back and forth and we will be ready next game.”

The Lightning found themselves shorthanded twice by the midway point of the opening period and came away unscathed in a scoreless first 20 minutes. In fact, they had three shots on goal during the first of the kills.

They killed all three Islanders powerplay on the game, but otherwise created some problems for themselves while not being able to put the puck past Varlamov until the final minute.

Both teams had 31 shots on goal in a game that was witnessed by 14,513.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.