The Lightning had six days to sit around between games. The Islanders had only one, and it was a travel day. Coach Jon Cooper said he was more concerned with rest than rust.
Center Brayden Point scored the first goal 74 seconds into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Monday night. By midway through the first period, defensemen Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh had scored 2:34 apart and the Lightning had a two-goal lead at 3-1.
No rust here.
The Lightning went on to beat the Islanders 8-2 in Edmonton.
“I think it’s good to take some time off and miss the game a little bit,” said Nikita Kucherov, who finished with five points on a goal and four assists. “Obviously the guys came out hard. The guys played hungry.”
The Lightning had a chance to recover physically and mentally from a tough conference semifinal against Boston. They won in five games but played three periods of overtime. Kucherov left the series-clinching Game 5 a week ago Monday with an injury and then had time to rest before starting the next series.
Meanwhile, the Islanders went into their semifinal Game 5 against the Flyers with a 3-1 series lead but couldn’t close it out until Game 7 on Saturday, with three overtime games.
“We obviously had our opportunities to end the series against Philly sooner,” forward Matt Martin said. “We didn’t.”
The Lightning made the four-hour flight from Toronto to Edmonton on Saturday and had a day to get acclimated. The Islanders did it Sunday.
“The bottom line is, you have to take advantage of a tired team,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the Lightning’s plan to manage the break — two days off the ice and then up-tempo practices without much battling — looked good from the lens of the win.
“Let’s be honest, this is a one-off,” Cooper said. “Let’s make no mistake here. We’re not going to see scores like this again.”
He repeated three times that this was just one game and that both teams will have the same rest and lack of travel from here out. Cooper pointed to the Bruins series; the Lightning were outplayed in Game 1 and then won the next four games.
All that is true, but the Lightning set a tone for the series with this win.
Even if they don’t score eight goals again or win by six (both of which were records for the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final), that they’ve done it once is significant.
After his team won Game 5 in overtime to eliminate Columbus in the first round, Cooper said his team had confidence going into the series’ second overtime game because they had won Game 1 in five extra periods.
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This could be the confidence-setting game for the conference final.
“It was great to be able to score goals early in the game and then to carry on,” said Yanni Gourde, who netted two. “I think it’s going to be good going into this round.”'
The Lightning know this was one game. They also know they didn’t play a perfect game, that Andrei Vasilevskiy made some big plays in net to keep the goal differential high. And they took six penalties.
But they also played the kind of high-skill game they’re good at; they ran the score up without taking big risks to give up scoring chances.
“To me, this is a game that we needed to take, and we did,” Cooper said. “Now it should be one hell of a series moving forward.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 7 (Coleman, Schenn), 1:14. 2, N.Y. Islanders, Eberle 4 (Lee, Barzal), 4:33 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 6 (Kucherov, Point), 8:12 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, McDonagh 1 (Kucherov, Sergachev), 10:46. Penalties—Coleman, TB (Interference), 2:49; Greene, NYI (Holding Stick), 6:16; Kucherov, TB (Hooking), 15:00; Sergachev, TB (Tripping), 18:13.
Second Period—5, Tampa Bay, Gourde 4 (Shattenkirk, Maroon), 4:03. 6, Tampa Bay, Point 8 (Kucherov, Hedman), 13:18 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (High Sticking), 8:13; Pageau, NYI (Hooking), 10:56; Greene, NYI (High Sticking), 12:54; Tampa Bay bench, served by Maroon (Tripping), 17:53.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 5 (Point, Shattenkirk), 5:51. 8, N.Y. Islanders, Leddy 3 (Eberle, Lee), 8:46. 9, Tampa Bay, Palat 6 (Point, Kucherov), 9:31. 10, Tampa Bay, Gourde 5 (Shattenkirk, Hedman), 13:15 (pp). Penalties—Martin, NYI (Roughing), 4:57; Sergachev, TB (Roughing), 4:57; Johnston, NYI (Misconduct), 4:57; Brassard, NYI (Slashing), 12:37; N.Y. Islanders bench, served by Eberle (Too Many Men on the Ice), 15:20; Martin, NYI (Delay of Game), 15:31.
Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 6-11-8_25. Tampa Bay 10-8-16_34. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 3 of 6. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Varlamov 9-2-2 (25 shots-20 saves), N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 2-1-1 (9-6). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 11-3-0 (25-23). T—2:28. Referees—Dan O’Rourke, Chris Rooney. Linesmen—Brad Kovachik, Jonny Murray.