What was more fun?
The three goals in 27 seconds of the second period, including two in 12 seconds from the Lightning?
The gamesmanship between the Lightning and Islanders, starting with pregame chitchat at center ice, carrying over to the Islanders' bench in the first period and then behind the Lightning net at the end of the period?
The sight of Brayden Point back flying around the ice?
Or the impressive skill that Tampa Bay’s top line of Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat exhibited during a third-period goal?
Do we have to pick?
The Lightning had it all Sunday in winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final 4-1 and moving within one win of advancing to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in five seasons.
Here is how we graded the Lightning’s performance:
Friday’s Game 3 ended with five misconduct penalties, and the ill will clearly was carried into Game 4. It started before the game, as Tampa Bay’s Luke Schenn, Pat Maroon, Zach Bogosian and Mikhail Sergachev exchanged words with New York’s Ross Johnston, Matt Martin and Scott Mayfield at center ice.
The players kept their tempers under control until the end of the first period, when Martin shot the puck at goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy off a rush after the horn sounded. Tampa Bay defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk went after the forward, setting off a scrum behind the Lightning net. Yanni Gourde and New York’s Cal Clutterbuck were penalized for roughing, and Martin received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
If you’re Lightning coach Jon Cooper, you love the way your defense stood up for your goaltender. And you’re even more thrilled with the power play you got to start the second period.
Point didn’t score until the third period, but he made an impact from the moment he stepped on the ice after missing part of Game 2 and all Game 3 with an injury. The Islanders were aware of his presence, hitting him at every opportunity, but it didn’t prevent the Lightning’s top-line center from skating freely around the ice, possessing the puck and setting up teammates for scoring chances.
He raised the pulse of Lightning fans with a rush through the neutral zone in the first period and drew a tripping penalty from defenseman Adam Pelech later in the period. He assisted on Palat’s second-period goal and added a goal of his own in the third. How good was it to have him back? It was so obvious, Cooper laughed off the question following the game.
All powered up
Victor Hedman or Sergachev on the top power-play unit? How about both? The defensemen joined Point, Palat and Kucherov on the first unit. While they didn’t score on three chances with the man advantage, you have to love the possibilities moving forward.
The funniest moment of the game came in the first period, when the stick of Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow got caught in the feet of Islanders forward Brock Nelson in the neutral zone. Nelson flipped the stick into the Islanders' bench, to Goodrow’s consternation. As Lightning forward Pat Maroon leaned over from the Lightning bench to retrieve the stick, New York forward Mathew Barzal tried to push it out of Maroon’s reach. The exchange ended with Maroon recovering the stick, then the two jabbing at each other with their sticks.
Grade: A, for sheer fun
Lightning wing Blake Coleman got caught looking up the ice when Nelson made a U-turn with the puck in the Tampa Bay zone, beat his pursuers to the left circle and whipped a shot over Vasilevskiy’s glove in the second period. But Cooper left Coleman on the ice for the ensuing faceoff and was repaid for his confidence 15 seconds later. Coleman got behind the Islanders defense, took a flip pass from linemate Yanni Gourde and beat goaltender Semyon Varlamov with a beautiful backhand shot as Varlamov tried to poke the puck off his stick.
Grade: A-plus, because we love redemption stories
We know the Point-Kucherov-Palat line is extremely skilled, but did you see what it did on one of the Lightning’s third-period goals?
Bogosian chipped the puck up the boards to Palat, who deflected the bouncing puck to Point in the neutral zone. Point one-timed a pass to Kucherov, who let the puck pass through his legs, then played it with his right skate up to his stick. Kucherov carried the puck into the offensive zone, pulling up just above the right circle, then passed across the ice to Palat in the left circle. Palat fed Point in the crease, and Point knocked his own rebound past Varlamov to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
The sequence made their second-period goal — Kucherov passing off the rush to Point on the outside of the right circle, back to Kucherov on the inside part of the circle, over to Palat just below the left circle — look pedestrian by comparison.
No line in hockey is more fun to watch right now.
Defending the net
The Lightning defense was staunch throughout the game, taking away time and space from the Islanders’ forwards and keeping highly skilled Barzal to the outside, where he is considerably less dangerous. Tampa Bay’s defensemen were particularly strong late in the game, avoiding turnovers and flipping pucks out of the zone to relieve pressure and keep the clock moving.
The few times there might have been breakdowns on defense, Vasilevskiy was there to bail out his defensemen, stopping 26 of 27 shots on goal. The goaltender never lost focus, even during a first period in which he faced only five shots. He was busier in the final two periods and made a couple of strong saves on defenseman Ryan Pulock, one on a backhand chance in front of the net and another going post to post after losing his stick.