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Islanders gain early edge on Lightning in Stanley Cup semifinals

Tampa Bay’s offense sputters until late in Game 1 as the team trails in a series for the first time this postseason.
While falling down to the ice, New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal gets the puck past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to score the first goal of the semifinals during the second period at Amalie Arena.
While falling down to the ice, New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal gets the puck past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to score the first goal of the semifinals during the second period at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 13
Updated Jun. 14

TAMPA — The Lightning know the Islanders well enough to realize how much they thrive on capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes.

The Islanders don’t give teams much space, but they stay in front of opponents and tempt them into bad passes. When opponents make one, they jump into the lane, and opponents are left watching them skate into their zone.

The Lightning were reminded of the Islanders’ style the hard way in their 2-1 loss in Game 1 of their league semifinal at Amalie Arena in front of an announced crowd of 14,513 Sunday.

“Our work ethic was there. Our compete with there. Our minds weren’t there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Some of our decisions were poor. So that happens when you get this deep into the playoffs and there’s only four teams left. You have to have everything working in unison, and we just weren’t quite there.”

The Lightning had seven giveaways, including a turnover by Steven Stamkos that led to forward Mathew Barzal’s goal with 7:18 remaining in the second period that gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead.

It has been nine months since the Lightning beat the Islanders in 2020′s Eastern Conference final, and Tampa Bay struggled feeling out its first non-Central Division foe this season. The Lightning have seen contrasting styles in these playoffs, from the Panthers’ up-tempo run-and-gun to the Hurricanes’ hard-pressing, tight-checking play.

“This team (Islanders), it definitely defends really well,” forward Alex Killorn said. “They play so tight in the zone, even though we have the puck for large amount of times, it’s tough to get really high-chance scoring opportunities. But these are all adjustments we’ll make, just like we did against Florida, just like we did against Carolina.”

In the previous two rounds, the Lightning took 2-0 leads on the road. This was the first time they started the postseason with home-ice advantage.

Last year, the Lightning lost Game 1 to the Stars in the Stanley Cup final last year in the Edmonton bubble before beating Dallas in six games, and they lost their second-round opener to the Bruins before winning four straight.

“We’re fine in this position,” Stamkos said. “It’s not ideal, but (the Islanders) did what we’ve done to teams so far (this postseason) and get one on the road. So we’ve got to respond with another game at home in front of our fans, and then we’ll take it from there.

“There’s no panic in the room. We’ll make some adjustments, and we’ll come back even hungrier.”

Lightning center Steven Stamkos battles in front of the net against Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech during the first period.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos battles in front of the net against Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech during the first period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

On Barzal’s goal, Stamkos had the puck against the far wall at the blue line, and instead of dumping it in, he sent the puck over the middle of the ice. Islanders forward Josh Bailey picked it off and fed Barzal through the neutral zone. Barzal got a step on Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta, charged to the net and slid the puck between goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s legs.

“I’m just trying to make a play there, and you see what can happen,” Stamkos said. “They can go the other way and score, and it can be the difference in a game. I know I need to be better in that situation. I think our team realizes how patient we are going to have to be, both teams, so it can be one play, it can be one bounce out there.”

The Lightning’s vaunted power play — which led all teams in the postseason with a 41.7 percent success rate entering the game — was kept off the ice until 37 seconds were left in the second period. And it got just one shot on goal then.

The Lightning had just two power plays in the game.

“A lot of times, just driving pucks deep and getting into our cycle game and get some shot-and-scramble game going, that’s when it opens up, maybe (creates) a seam pass here or there,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “But too many times (Sunday), for sure, we mismanaged with the puck on our stick.”

New York went up 2-0 just 5:36 into the third period on defenseman Ryan Pulock’s goal on an unobstructed shot from the point. The Lightning’s Brayden Point scored on the power play with 53.7 seconds remaining in the game.

Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov had 30 saves; Vasilevskiy stopped 29 shots.

“It’s frustrating to lose, so I think that’s the frustrating part,” Cooper said. “But this (Islanders team) is no different than the team we basically had beaten in the bubble. And we just made too many mistakes. Managing the puck is a big thing against this team, and they managed better than us, and they got one extra break.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

Islanders 0-1-1—2

Lightning 0-0-1—1

First Period—None. Penalties—Goodrow, TB (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), 0:08; Martin, NYI (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), 0:08; McDonagh, TB (Tripping), 3:22; Goodrow, TB (Roughing), 9:21.

Second Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Barzal 4 (Bailey), 12:32. Penalties—Cernak, TB (Tripping), 16:41; Palmieri, NYI (Interference), 19:23.

Third Period—2, N.Y. Islanders, Pulock 4 (Eberle), 5:36. 3, Tampa Bay, Point 9 (Killorn, Kucherov), 19:07. Penalties—Nelson, NYI (High Sticking), 18:22.

Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 14-9-8_31. Tampa Bay 11-9-11_31. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Varlamov 5-3-0 (31 shots-30 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-4-0 (31-29). A—14,513 (19,092). T—2:20. Referees—Eric Furlatt, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Jonny Murray.

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