EDMONTON — Rivalry isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of the Lightning and Islanders.
But that changes with a chance to play for the Stanley Cup on the line. A rivalry is starting to brew as the Eastern Conference final between the team continues along.
The Lightning won Game 4 by a score of 4-1 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
The rivalry started to heat up with the hit by Lightning forward Alex Killorn on Islanders forward Brock Nelson in Game 2 that resulted in Killorn’s suspension for Game 3. It got hotter with Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov taking a wicked slash to the ankles of Islanders forward J.G. Pageau as Pageau deposited an empty-net goal at the end of Game 3.
“I don’t know if it’s a rivalry,” Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said after Game 3. “But they don’t like us, and we don’t like them.”
Game 4 had some shenanigans, too — starting with words exchanged during warmups — but one thing is certain. The Lightning aren’t allowing teams to push them around in these playoffs.
“Obviously, there are high emotions in a conference final," Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. "But there have been a lot of changes to this team with guys that have been brought in and guys who’ve stepped up and played big roles in a physical series.
“We’re not going to back down from anybody. We’ve played our game, but any of that extra stuff after the whistles, we’re not getting too sucked into it. We want to beat them between the whistles, and I think our team has stayed focused and kept with our game plan. It’s been fun.”
As the first period came to an end Sunday, Islanders forward Matt Martin took a long slap shot on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy as the buzzer sounded.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk took exception, leading to a scuffle. From high above the rafters inside Rogers Place, you could hear Martin tell the referee and whoever was listening on the Lightning, “I shot the puck as the horn was going. … Relax.”
Martin received a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the Lightning weren’t able to cash in on the power play at the beginning of the second period.
Earlier in the first period, Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow’s stick got caught up in the skates of Nelson, and Nelson decided to toss Goodrow’s stick into the Islanders bench. When Lightning forward Patrick Maroon tried to retrieve it, forward Mathew Barzal wasn’t going to give it back.
These are all little games within the game the Lightning and Islanders are having fun with. Throughout this series, if players haven’t been getting their chirps in on the ice, they’ve been getting their shots in after the game.
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Pageau had a colourful response to Kucherov’s slash on his empty-net goal.
“He’s a competitor. I think he was trying to get his stick on the puck, but he wasn’t very close and got my leg. We’re going to battle and compete,” said Pageau.
But while the rivalry is building, there is a great deal of respect between the teams.
“I don’t think it’s anything personal. We’re in the conference final,” said Pageau.
“You have to expect both teams to go out there and go as hard as they can and play for each other. One thing about our group is everyone is stepping up for each other.”