TAMPA — If Sunday’s loss was any indication, the Lightning might not be able to lean on their lethal power-play unit as much against the Islanders as they’ve grown accustomed to this postseason.
Tampa Bay entered the Stanley Cup semifinals with the postseason’s top-ranked power-play unit, scoring at a 41.7-percent success rate.
But it’s only a factor if it can get on the ice.
Of the four remaining teams, the Islanders have averaged the least amount of penalty minutes this postseason (6.9). Through 13 games, they’ve sat in the box all of 90 minutes.
The Lightning had just two power-play chances in Game 1, getting their first opportunity with 37 seconds left in the second period. By that time, Tampa Bay had already killed three penalties of its own.
The Lightning, who entered the gamer averaging 3.27 power-play opportunities (36 through 11 games) this postseason, will have to adjust to not getting quite that many chances.
As time trickled down in the third period, the Lightning’s top power-play unit took the ice trailing by two. With goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker, giving Tampa Bay a 6-on-4 advantage, Brayden Point scored with 54 seconds remaining to bring the Lightning back to within a goal.
The lack of man-advantage chances heightens the urgency for better 5-on-5 play for the Lightning.
“We’ve relied on our power-play for sure in the first two series,” said forward Alex Killorn. “Our five-on-five play was pretty good, as well, but I think we’re going to have to take it up a notch.”
Varlamov’s performance ‘no surprise’
The Lightning knew what to expect against the Islanders, and seeing Semyon Varlamov between the posts was far from surprising.
The 33-year-old goaltender faced Tampa Bay all six times during last season’s Eastern Conference final, helping his team to two wins.
Sunday, Varlamov stopped 30 of 31 shots. He was less than a minute from his first shutout of the postseason when Point scored. Varlamov’s seven shutouts during the regular season tied Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer for most in the league.
Varlamov made a key stop on Killorn early in the third period before Ryan Pulock scored at the other end of the ice for what eventually became the winning goal.
“In our minds, Varly is one of the best goalies in the league,” Islanders forward Jordan Eberle said. “It’s no surprise (he did well). He’s been there all year for us.”
While Varlamov has one win in the books, he and his teammates know things won’t be easy with four-time Vasilevskiy at the other end of the ice.
The four-time Vezina finalist stopped 29 of 31 shots in losing for just the fourth time this postseason. Trotz said Vasilevskiy made some “big saves” after New York went ahead by a goal.
“Vasilevskiy, to me, he’s the best goalie in the NHL,” Varlamov said. “He’s been the best goalie in the NHL for the past couple of years. He’s outstanding, and he’s also a great person, a very humble guy. I mean, I like this kid. But now we’re playing against each other”
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