When Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev took an Anthony Beauvillier stick to the face in the closing minutes of regulation Tuesday night, putting the Islanders down a man for four minutes, it felt like New York had gift-wrapped a series-clinching victory.
If Tampa Bay didn’t win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final in the final 1:23 of regulation, surely it would do so in what remained of the power play at the beginning of overtime.
Let the celebration begin. On to the Stanley Cup final.
We’ll stitch up Sergachev later.
Only, the impossible happened.
A Victor Hedman wrist shot from the slot was deflected wide by teammate Tyler Johnson. Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov stopped a Nikita Kucherov blast from the right circle. Yanni Gourde turned over the puck along the side boards, allowing the Islanders to clear the zone. Johnson’s pass for Pat Maroon in the slot went off Maroon’s skate. Jean-Gabriel Pageau deflected a Hedman slap shot from the high slot up out of play.
The Islanders killed the penalty, and the Lightning squandered their best chance to put the series away.
They’ll have two more chances, starting with Game 6 on Thursday, to eliminate the Islanders and advance to the Stanley Cup final for the second time in six seasons. The odds are still well in their favor.
It just feels like they should have done so already.
Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in their 2-1, double-overtime loss in Game 5:
Penalty a killer
From the start, it was apparent the Islanders were making a concerted effort to get their defensemen up ice and more involved in the offensive play. Nick Leddy led a rush up the left side early in the first period, getting off a wrist shot from the left circle that Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy gloved. Ryan Pulock similarly was moving up and pinching in the offensive zone.
As luck would have it, the two teamed up to score the first goal of the game on — of all things — the power play.
With Kucherov in the penalty box for tripping Brock Nelson, Leddy took the puck from Mathew Barzal as he crossed the blue line, then skated to the center of the ice and passed to Pulock at the top of the right circle. Pulock blasted a slap shot past Vasilevskiy, with Anders Lee setting a screen in front, giving the Islanders a 1-0 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the first period.
Right time, right place
It was the Lightning who benefitted from a defenseman joining the rush in the second period. Luke Schenn played the puck from the Lightning end up the boards to Blake Coleman, who skated to the right circle and shot on goal. The rebound came out front for Gourde, who overskated the puck, but Hedman collected it and slapped it past Varlamov from just inside the left circle, tying the score at 1 four minutes into the period.
What could have been
Is there such a thing as too much hustle?
There was midway through the second period, when Lightning forward Cedric Paquette beat Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield to a puck at the end boards and made a nice backhand pass to Carter Verhaeghe at the left faceoff dot. Verhaeghe one-timed a shot past Varlamov for the go-ahead goal.
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Except, the Islanders challenged the goal, and replays showed that Paquette was clearly offside on the play.
Grade: B. Love the effort, if not the result.
It all evens out
Late in the second period, Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian tipped a pass from Pageau too high for Lee to handle, thwarting an Islanders 2-on-1 and possibly saving a goal.
Minutes later, Bogosian hit the post from low in the right circle with the whole upper-right corner to shoot at after a nice circle-to-circle pass from Verhaeghe. Could have been a goal? Should have been a goal.
Grades: A, C
There were long stretches of this game, particularly early, when Vasilevskiy faced few shots. But he stayed mentally focused and was on his game later when the shots picked up and the Lightning really needed him.
In the third period, Vasilevskiy stopped a Lee redirect of a Leddy shot after a Kucherov turnover in the Lightning zone. Later in the period, the Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck tipped a Mayfield shot on net and threw his hands in the air, thinking he had scored. But Vasilevskiy, on his hands and knees, had the puck underneath him.
Shortly before Jordan Eberle’s winning goal, the Lightning suffered a scare when Pulock sent a pass through the crease for Leo Komarov in front of the net. The pass deflected off Bogosian’s skate toward Vasilevskiy, but the Lightning goaltender got just enough of the puck to keep it out of the net.
A swing and a miss
You can’t help but feel bad for Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. His whiff on a shot just inside the Islanders blue line created the 2-on-1 that resulted in Eberle’s winning goal.
Credit Lee for winning the footrace to the puck and a smooth cross-ice pass past Sergachev to Eberle, as well as Eberle for an accurate one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy on the glove side.
Call it rotten luck, but Shattenkirk got nothing but air.
Eberle got all net.